The University of Maine women’s basketball team got off to a terrific start in Friday’s America East championship game at the University of Albany’s SEFCU Arena in Albany, New York, rattling off 12 unanswered points in the first quarter to build a 16-4 lead.
But it was all downhill after that.
The second-seeded Great Danes outscored the cold-shooting and turnover-plagued Black Bears 19-6 in the second quarter and 24-12 in the third en route to claiming their sixth straight America East Tournament championship by virtue of a 66-50 victory.
It was Albany’s 17th straight America East playoff triumph.
The Great Danes improved to 21-11 and will advance to the NCAA Tournament.
UMaine concluded an 18-16 campaign.
The Black Bears haven’t won an America East tournament championship since 2004.
The Great Danes outscored UMaine 32-16 in the paint and turned 24 Black Bear turnovers into a 26-2 advantage in points off turnovers. The Albany bench outscored UMaine’s bench 27-4.
Albany shot 44.6 percent from the floor (29-for-65) and 40 percent from beyond the 3-point arc (6-for-15) while UMaine shot just 36.2 percent from the floor (17-for-47) and a dismal 20 percent from behind the 3-point arc (3-for-15).
Senior first-team All-America East guard Imani Tate had 21 points and four steals, both game-highs, to lead Albany. She also grabbed five rebounds and dished out five assists.
Freshman guard Mackenzie Trpcic had 15 points, including four 3-pointers, and a game-high six assists.
Heather Forster contributed 10 points, four rebounds and three steals; Cassandra Edwards scored six points and corralled six rebounds and Naples native Tiana-Jo Carter chipped in six rebounds, four blocked shots, two steals and four points.
Three-time first-team All-AE guard Sigi Koizar paced the Black Bears with 14 points and freshmen Fanny Wadling and Blanca Millan had 13 and 11 points, respectively. Wadling’s 13 points were a career-high. Koizar only hit 5 of 16 shots from the field, including 1 for 6 from 3-point range.
Millan had a team-high seven rebounds, Wadling gathered in six and Koizar had five.
Millan also had three assists and Wadling had two. Tanesha Sutton had a team-high three steals to go with three assists, four rebounds and four points. Laia Sole produced four points, four rebounds and two assists.
“Credit to Albany. They came out and played a better game than us today,” said UMaine associate head coach Amy Vachon at the post-game press conference. “We came out to a good start but then we struggled to find offense.
“The turnovers were a key. We turned it over too many times. And we gave up too many offensive rebounds. When you have 24 turnovers and they get 12 offensive rebounds and [nearly] 20 more shots than you do, those are tough stats to overcome,” Vachon added.
“They extended their zone and we didn’t do a good job attacking it,” said Koizar. “And the turnovers added up.”
UMaine led 16-6 after the first period but went 7:03 without a basket in the second quarter as the Great Danes used a 19-4 run to build a 25-20 lead before Koizar’s two free throws capped the first-half scoring.
UMaine missed its last eight field goal attempts of the half.
Albany reeled off a 17-6 spurt in the third period to expand the lead to 45-30 and UMaine couldn’t get any closer than 10 the rest of the way.
Albany used a 7-0 run early in that third period to build a 35-24 lead as Forster sandwiched a pair of inside baskets around a three-pointer by Trpcic.
Millan hit a pair of 3-pointers to offset a Trpcic layup and pull UMaine within 37-30 but Albany went on an 12-4 run to finish off the quarter. Tate had six of the 12 points.
UMaine tried to claw its way back into the game in the fourth quarter as Wadling and Millan had three points apiece during an 8-3 spurt to slice the lead to 52-42 but Tate connected on back-to-back baskets and, after Sole sank two free throws, Trpcic’s 3-pointer with 4:57 left made it 59-44 and all but sewed up the victory.
Vachon added that she was proud of her team and felt Wadling and Millan
She also lauded the performances turned in by Albany’s Tate and Trpcic.
“Imani Tate is a great player. She took the game over. That’s what champions do,” said Vachon. “And Trpcic came to play. She played a great game.”