ORONO, Maine — Many of the best players in program history were in the stands Saturday afternoon to celebrate Alumnae Weekend at Alfond Arena.
The University of Maine women’s basketball team made sure it was like old times — at least as far as the outcome was concerned.
Senior Sam Baranowski scored a career-high 20 points, the highest output of the season for a Black Bear, and UMaine showed grit down the stretch to pull out a 48-47 America East victory over the Bearcats.
UMaine (6-16, 3-6 AE) converted six of seven free throws in the final 28 seconds to win for the third time in its last five games.
“It was such a great win for us because it was one that was neck and neck,” said UMaine coach Richard Barron, whose team avoided some of the mistakes that have plagued it.
“We didn’t give up that big (scoring) run up. We took care of the ball (13 turnovers). I thought we executed our defensive game plan very well.”
Binghamton (10-12, 4-5 AE) suffered through a dismal offensive effort during which it shot 18-for-62 from the field. That included 3-for-18 shooting from the 3-point arc.
“We put up 62 shots and we only shot 29 percent,” said Binghamton coach Nicole Scholl. “You’re not going to win a lot of games doing that.”
Barron credited the Bears for sticking with their defensive principles and forcing the Bearcats to scramble to get shots.
“They’re a very deliberate team, very structured,” he said. “We had some strategies that I thought we executed very well. When they scored it tended to be late in the shot clock when the offense broke down and they got some penetration.”
The Black Bears fought intensely throughout and demonstrated poise down the stretch.
Baranowski scored on a spin move in the lane to put UMaine ahead for good at 39-37 with 4:51 left. Binghamton then suffered through an agonizing offensive stretch that typified its day.
During a span of 1:15, sparked by tenacious rebounding, the Bearcats drove into the paint five times — only to miss each shot.
“I think a lot of those shots were something going to the rim, where we couldn’t finish around the rim,” Scholl said.
UMaine made it hurt. Baranowski kicked a pass from the paint out to the wing where Brittany Williams buried a 3-pointer that made it 42-37 with 2:59 remaining.
“We just had a sense of composure about us. “Obviously, that’s not ideal in the least bit,” Baranowski said of Binghamton’s extended possession. “We could have let it get to us, but we just stayed calm and took care of business when we got down at the other end of the floor.”
Binghamton countered as Andrea Holmes drove in for a layup and followed a UMaine miss with two foul shots to slice the deficit to a single point with 2:23 left. However, two Bearcat misses and a turnover later, they were forced to foul.
Courtney Anderson of Greene made both ends of a bonus with 27.9 seconds left, then the Bears put it away on two Baranowski free throws with 13 seconds to play that gave them a five-point edge.
“I think our last couple of practices we’ve been really focused,” said freshman Becca Knight of Alfred. “We’ve been working on execution and communicating. I think it helped us.”
Baranowski also posted eight rebounds for UMaine, which committed only five second-half turnovers.
UMaine received nine points from Williams, six points and six rebounds from Ashleigh Roberts and six points, five rebounds and three assists from Knight.
Holmes paced Binghamton with 15 points. Jasbriell Swain provided seven points and seven rebounds and Viive Rebane grabbed 11 rebounds.
Orla O’Reilly and Rebane had combined for 48 points in the first meeting in New York, a 72-54 Binghamton win on Jan. 2.
The presence of numerous former UMaine players and a large crowd might just have provided the extra lift the Black Bears needed.
“Yeah, I’m sure it helped,” Baranowski said. “It was nice to have a (big) crowd in there and it was cool to have them (alums) all in the locker room with us.”
The Bears trailed by only a point (19-18) at halftime after outscoring the Bearcats 13-6 over the last 9½ minutes of the period.
UMaine committed eight turnovers, but limited Binghamton to a 9-for-31 (29 percent) shooting effort. The Bearcats went 0-for-10 from the 3-point arc.
Binghamton led 13-5 at the 9:53 mark, but managed only six points from that point on, including a scoring drought of nearly seven minutes.
UMaine started clawing its way back with a 6-0 run that included two baskets by Baranowski and Amber Dillon’s 12-footer.