WEST HARTFORD, Conn. — It may have been the first-round game, but the University of Maine women’s basketball took a positive step forward Thursday night.
The eighth-seeded Black Bears held No. 9 Stony Brook scoreless down the stretch and overcame a six-point, second-half deficit to earn a 49-43 victory in the America East Championship at the University of Hartford’s Chase Arena.
Coach Richard Barron’s UMaine team (8-22) advances to play top seed and regular-season champion Boston University (22-7) in Friday’s noon quarterfinal.
“It’s exciting,” said UMaine senior forward Samantha Baranowski, who scored 10 of her game-high 16 points in the second half.
“We’re excited about tomorrow (Saturday) now. No more celebrating this, but it felt good,” she added.
The Black Bears, who beat Stony Brook (4-26) three times this season, had dropped six straight postseason games, including four straight in the first round, dating back to a 2006 first-round win over Albany.
“It was very exciting,” chimed in Bears senior guard Brittany Williams, who registered nine points and eight rebounds.
“It’s like a weight lifted off our shoulders,” she added. “We’ve been in this situation for a long time and we finally can get out of the play-in game and move on to BU, which is going to be a tough game, but we have to be smart and play better than we did today.”
Trailing 22-18 at halftime, Stony Brook stormed out of the locker room behind senior Whitney Davis (14 points, 5 rebounds). She scored six points during an 8-2 burst that helped the Seawolves take a 32-26 lead with 13:51 to play.
“I thought Stony Brook did a very good job of making us pay for our mistakes early in the second half and really throughout most of the second half,” Barron said.
The Bears committed only 13 turnovers, but eight of those came in the second half. The Seawolves scored only six points off the miscues.
UMaine was able to make the necessary adjustments and put together an 11-2 run to slow SBU’s momentum.
Freshman Becca Knight of Alfred (8 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists) scored six of her points during that spurt, which included five points from Baranowski as the Bears took a 37-34 lead with 7:42 remaining.
The Seawolves, who had hit six of their first seven shots in the half, went on to make only four of their final 22. And the Bears hit the boards with authority, grabbing a 26-13 advantage in the half and 45-32 overall.
Stony Brook made a final 9-4 run, with Dani Klupenger’s 3-pointer giving the Seawolves a 43-41 edge with 3:51 to play. They wouldn’t score again.
“All season we’ve been in games, but our scoring (has been lacking),” said SBU coach Beth O’Boyle.
“We were trying to find ways to put the ball in the basket,” she added.
Williams opened UMaine’s late spurt with two foul shots after Stony Brook’s third and final turnover of the contest.
The Bears took the lead when Williams and freshman Danielle Walczak (10 points, 8 rebounds) missed shots, but Baranowski rebounded and scored to make it 45-43 with 1:06 left.
“She was 6-for-6 and when they needed a go-to scorer, they really got some production from her,” O’Boyle said.
Baranowski settled down in the second half after being whistled for back-to-back fouls without the clock running and playing only five minutes before intermission. She worked around her troubles after picking up her fourth with 6:06 remaining.
“I just tried to tell myself to calm down and play a little smarter, just stay focused,” she said.
Baranowski gambled when she blocked a shot by Jessica Previlon (8 points, 8 rebounds) on the ensuing possession, then she and Walczak went 4-for-6 from the foul line in the last 34 seconds to ice it.
BEAR TRACKS: The Black Bears went into the tournament even more shorthanded than they had been. Freshman walk-on guard Amber Dillon left the team recently, leaving UMaine with only nine active players. UMaine has lost three players since the season began: Junior Shareka Maner and freshmen Kelsey Mattice and Dillon … Sophomore center Ali Nalivaika is again on crutches after undergoing another surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee. She was injured during preseason, had surgery and had been undergoing rehabilitation.