WEST HARTFORD, Conn. — Thursday night, people were talking about whether the University of Maine women’s basketball team could win a first-round game for the first time in six years.
On Friday afternoon, the discussion surrounded the Black Bears’ bid for what would have been the biggest postseason upset in program history.
Top-seeded Boston University survived uncharacteristic offensive struggles and made shots down the stretch to overcome No. 8 UMaine 52-43 in an America East quarterfinal at the University of Hartford’s Chase Arena.
“I thought they played real tough, physical, and really threw a lot of different things at us,” BU coach Kelly Greenberg said of UMaine. “I’m really, really glad that we were able to come back and fight through some adversity, some bad shooting for us, and get the ‘W.’”
Coach Richard Barron’s Black Bears (8-23), who doubled their win total from last season, hope the performance sends a message about where they’re headed.
“This is a statement game for us,” Barron said.
“We knew it was going be about our will, our guts, our defensive intensity,” he said, “and playing with a limited bench, I thought our effort was outstanding. I feel like we kind of ran out of gas, we couldn’t quite push it over the hump.”
The regular-season champion Terriers (23-7) move into Sunday’s semifinals against No. 5 Maryland Baltimore County, a 59-57 winner Friday over No. 4 New Hampshire. It is their fifth straight semifinal appearance.
The Bears limited BU, the league’s top offensive team, to 27 percent shooting (13-for-49). Ultimately, they couldn’t sustain their effort with the game on the line.
“We gave a good defensive effort out there and we rebounded well,” said UMaine senior co-captain Brittany Williams (7 points, 4 rebounds). “We played together and we were all on the same page.”
With BU leading by seven at halftime, freshman Courtney Anderson of Greene (6 rebounds, 3 assists) sparked UMaine’s resurgence. She hit the Bears’ first three baskets of the second half and scored all 13 of her points during a 17-10 burst that tied the game 33-33 with 12:28 to play.
“My shot selection was a lot better in the second half,” Anderson said. “Once you get good shots and you start knocking them down, it makes a difference. That’s what changed my mindset.”
Boston University relied on its veterans to stay on top. Mo Moran (12 points) made two free throws to give the Terriers the lead for good, then two-time AE Player of the Year Chantell Alford (18 points, 5 rebounds) answered a Brittany Williams foul shot with two of her own to give BU a 37-34 advantage.
UMaine’s Samantha Baranowski (8 points, 9 rebounds) then sandwiched close-range baskets around two free throws by Rashidat Agboola (11 rebounds, 3 blocks), keeping UMaine within a point (39-38) with 7:36 remaining.
At that point, the game seemed to Anderson to be dragging on incessantly.
“I was thinking, the clock is going so slow,” Anderson said. “If we could get it to move any faster, we could have won the game easily at that moment.”
Alford countered with two free throws, then Alex Young (11 points) buried a 3-pointer in transition — BU’s first field goal in 10 minutes, 56 seconds — to give the Terriers a 44-38 lead with 5:27 to play.
“I think we had worked so hard to get back to tying the game or staying within one possession and that little swing right there kind of put it to where we couldn’t get over the hump again,” Barron said.
BU, which afforded UMaine only one field goal and five points in the last 7½ minutes, demonstrated its playoff experience.
“I think we have a real veteran squad and I think that we’ve all been down before, especially this year,” Young said. “We’ve all been in a situation where we’ve had to really dig down.”
The Terriers’ physical toughness was a factor as they got to the foul line often and converted 21 of 25 free throws. Alford went 8-for-8 from the line.
UMaine, which got seven points each from freshman Danielle Walczak and senior Brittany Williams, outrebounded BU 42-35. However, Agboola grabbed eight offensive boards in the second half to help her team keep the ball alive.
“Obviously, they made free throws and they got offensive rebounds that didn’t lead directly to putbacks, but it took the ball out of our hands, extended their possessions, kind of calmed them down,” Barron said. “Rashidat [Agboola], she really did a great job coming down the stretch with those offensive boards.”
The Bears committed 18 turnovers in the contest, but the Terriers only converted them into nine points. UMaine had 11 points off BU miscues and outscored the Terriers 24-12 in the paint.
The Black Bears found themselves trailing only 23-16 after a first half dominated by defense.
UMaine had difficulty operating against the Terriers’ man-to-man and 2-3 zone defenses and shot 21 percent (6-for-28) from the field in that half. That included 1-for-8 from 3-point range.
However, the Bears held their own on defense, mostly in man-to-man. They limited the Terriers to 29 percent accuracy (6-for-21), but BU converted nine of 10 free throws to help make up the difference.
UMaine was tenacious on the boards and out-rebounded the Terriers 22-15, including nine offensive rebounds that led to eight second-chance points. However, the Bears committed 12 turnovers that led to seven BU points.
The Terriers, who were the more physical team despite incurring only four fouls in the half, had nine turnovers that resulted in six points by UMaine.
UMaine had to work around two fouls apiece on three different players. Baranowski was held scoreless with only two attempts, but Walczak helped pick up the slack with five points.