BANGOR, Maine — The University at Albany’s dominance of America East women’s basketball the last two seasons rivals that of the 1990s University of Maine teams.
On Sunday afternoon, this year’s Black Bear squad demonstrated — albeit in defeat — that it could be a legitimate contender to win the conference title next month.
Cherrish Wallace had her shot blocked by 6-foot-8 center Megan Craig with three seconds left as UMaine pushed the Great Danes to the limit before dropping a 58-56 thriller at the Cross Insurance Center.
“Everyone in the gym today knew that we were right there with them, that that was our game (to win),” said UMaine’s Liz Wood, who finished with 10 points, six rebounds, five steals and three assists.
“They know we’re coming after them in the tournament,” she added.
It was another agonizing loss for coach Richard Barron’s Black Bears (14-12, 8-5 AE), who gave the first-place Great Danes (23-3, 13-0 AE) their closest league game of the season.
Margarita Rosario made six of eight free throws in the final 2:50 to help Albany extend its conference win streak to 36 games.
“I’m tired, like the rest of our team, of being on the short end,” Barron said.
“We’ve got to come out on top at home in these close games,” he added.
UMaine was in position to pull the upset, but was unable to get the one basket, stop or rebound that might have made it happen.
Anna Heise’s low-post basket and Ashleigh Roberts’ conventional three-point play gave the hosts a 53-50 lead with 2:56 left, but Albany countered as Rosario (10 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists) sandwiched three foul shots around a close-range hoop from Craig (10 points, 8 rebounds) to put the visitors ahead 55-53 with 1:45 to play.
Heise (9 points, 4 rebounds) gave UMaine its last lead, converting a pass from Wood to start a three-point play to make it 56-55 at the 1:21 mark.
Chantel Charles’ steal led to a shot-clock violation, then a steal attempt by Wallace (16 points, 5 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocks) resulted in a foul. Rosario made both free throws to put Albany on top 57-56 with 15.7 seconds remaining.
“She gets it (the steal), we win the game, (that) puts it away,” Barron said.
At the other end, Barron called timeout as Roberts drove the baseline with 6.8 seconds left. On the ensuing inbounds play, Wallace was swallowed up by the defense and had her shot blocked by Craig.
“The play was for me to pop out to the corner and I’d receive the ball and probably get a screen from anybody that was kind of in the area at the time,” Wallace said. “I figured a trap was going to come, though.”
The Bears fouled and Rosario made one of two before time expired.
Wood was instrumental in holding dynamic Danes forward Shereesha Richards (21.4 ppg) to eight points and nine rebounds. Roberts added eight points and three assists and Sigi Koizar grabbed a team-high eight rebounds.
Imani Tate tallied 13 points and Tammy Phillip posted seven points and 10 rebounds for Albany.
UMaine returns to action Saturday at Stony Brook.