Courtesy: UAlbany Sports Information
West Hartford, Conn. – Charity Iromuanya recorded his first career double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds, as UAlbany rallied in the second half for a 64-57 victory over Binghamton in the America East Conference Championship’s quarterfinal round on Friday, March 15 at the University of Hartford’s Chase Arena. The Great Danes will meet top-seed and regular-season champion Hartford, a 72-41 winner against Stony Brook, in the semifinals on Saturday at 5:00 p.m.
UAlbany (13-17) trailed by nine at the intermission and erased that hole with 12 consecutive points to begin the second half. Iromuanya ignited that run with a baseline drive, a steal that led to a fastbreak layup and two free throws. Freshman guard Janea Aiken, who led her team with 14 points, hit a driving layup and sank a pair of three throws for a 37-36 lead.
Binghamton’s Laura Sario, who had 16 points and seven rebounds, later drew her team even at 39 apiece with a three-point field goal from the left corner. But the Great Danes answered with 11 of the game’s next 12 points. Iromuanya, who added four steals and two assists to her career-high rebound total, made a three-pointer from the left wing to put her team ahead for good. Gia Sanders then scored in the lane off a baseline feed from Kristin Higy. Sanders, a 6-foot senior who had 10 points, later made a foul-line jumper and converted in the lane for a 50-40 lead midway through the period.
The Bearcats, the tournament’s fifth seed who lost both regular-season meetings to UAlbany, would eventually closed the gap to three on two occasions, including 56-53 with 3:27 left when Brianna Thompson, a 6’1” senior, made a turnaround bank shot. UAlbany’s Britney McGee answered that surge when she hit a 15-foot jumper and finished off a fastbreak on consecutive possessions. Despite missing the front end of three one-and-one free throw opportunities in the final minute, the Great Danes hung on to advance to the semifinal round for the first time since 2004.
“I am so proud of the heart of this team,” said UAlbany coach Trina Patterson, whose squad has reached the America East semifinals for just the second time since joining the conference in 2001-02. “There was no rhyme or reason to how we won the game. We were on another level intensity-wise. We didn’t want to go home. If we can keep the intensity this high or higher, we can be very dangerous this weekend.”
Binghamton (11-19) wiped out a nine-point deficit in the opening half with 12 unanswered. Erica Carter drilled three consecutive 3-point shots, including a long-range jumper from the right wing, to tie the contest at 25 apiece. Sario, who had 10 first-half points, then nailed a three-pointer from the left wing to put her team ahead. The Bearcats, who closed the period on a monster 20-2 run, held the tournament’s fourth seed without a field goal over the final six minutes of the stanza. Sario used the glass to can a pair of shots from left of the lane before making one of two free throws for a 36-27 lead at the break. UAlbany held a nine-point cushion twice in the first stanza despite shooting just 28.6 percent. Higy and TaNika Thrower made back-to-tack 3-pointers for a 25-16 advantage.
“We know that if we lose one we’re done,” said Iromuanya, a sophomore guard who did all of her scoring after halftime and helped her team force 27 turnovers. “We have a great bunch of seniors that push us. Defense wins games. Everyone committed (to that) in the first five minutes of the second half ... stay on your man and help each other out.”
The Bearcats’ Laine Kurpniece, a first-team all-conference center, had 14 points and a career-high 15 rebounds, while Carter had 12 of her 14 points in the opening half. McGee finished with 11 points for the Great Danes, who have won nine of their last 12 outings.