WEST HARTFORD, Conn. ‘- Britney McGee and the eighth-seeded University at Albany gave the top-seeded Boston University women’s basketball team everything it could possibly handle in an exhilarating quarterfinal round game Friday at the University of Hartford’s Chase Family Arena.
McGee poured in a career-high 32 points, and the Great Danes (6-24) stormed back from a 26-11 deficit to take the lead less than seven minutes later, held onto that lead for the next 16-plus minutes, and pushed the Terriers (22-6) ‘- a team that had beaten Albany by an average of 26.5 points in their first two meetings this season ‘- to overtime before BU prevailed, 77-75.
With a chance to hold for the winning shot in the extra session, McGee had the ball knocked away from her by America East Defensive Player of the Year Amarachi Umez-Eronini. Umez-Eronini (6 points, 9 rebounds) then beat a diving McGee to the loose ball and passed it off to senior point guard Christine Kinneary (17 points, 7 assists) at mid-court. Kinneary raced to the basket, cut inside a defender and finished with a right-handed layup to give BU a 77-75 lead with 3.2 seconds left.
With the game McGee was having, however, nothing was settled yet. The Great Danes pushed the ball up the floor, and McGee found herself with a 3-point attempt from NBA range ‘- a shot she had proven she was capable of knocking down earlier in the game. As the buzzer sounded, her shot skimmed off the inside part of the front rim, crossed over the open bucket below, bounced off the back of the rim, and fell harmlessly to the floor.
‘I just think that throughout the whole regulation, we played so hard, and we had them,’ Albany sophomore guard Janea Aiken (20 points) said. ‘The whole second half, we were up. I think we gave it all we had. We left everything on the floor. But obviously it just wasn’t enough in the end.’
‘We’re very proud of this team,’ Albany coach Trina Patterson said. ‘Our motto for this week was, ‘Why not us? Why not today?’ I thought we played well enough to win. I am so proud of the effort.’
With 9:30 left in the first half, it looked as if the Terriers were on their way to another blowout win over the Great Danes. Umez-Eronini had just banked in a short jumper to cap a 9-0 BU run, giving the Terriers a 26-11 lead.
But then, Albany junior guard Charity Iromuanya (10 points, 12 rebounds) knocked down a trey to get the ball rolling for the underdogs. From there, McGee took over. Over the next three minutes, she scored 11 straight points for the Great Danes ‘- including two trifectas from behind the men’s line with a hand in her face ‘- to cut BU’s lead to 28-25.
‘She’s a great player,’ Kinneary said of McGee. ‘We knew that all year, but she really brought her ‘A’ game today. You have to tip your hat to a player like that. She was taking step-back threes and just hitting everything and really feeling it.’
Sophomore forward Kim Clements gave Albany its first lead on a layup with 2:51 left in the half. An Aiken drive and layup with 27 seconds left sent the Great Danes into the locker room with a shocking 37-31 lead.
In addition to McGee’s offensive fireworks, Albany’s defense slowed the conference’s best offense like very few teams have done all season. Over the final 11 minutes of the first half, the Terriers shot just 3-of-18 from the field.
‘We were kind of playing out of character, possibly rushing shots because we were down a little bit,’ senior forward and AE Player of the Year Jesyka Burks-Wiley said. ‘They were just really aggressive and they took away a lot of our strengths. They forced some uncomfortable shots.’
While McGee and Aiken refused to let off the gas pedal to start the second half, Burks-Wiley (23 points, 10 rebounds) did everything she could to keep her team in the game, despite playing with three personal fouls. She netted nine of BU’s first 11 points in the second half, but the Terriers continued to fall behind, finding themselves down by 10 with less than 10 minutes remaining in the game.
After Burks-Wiley made two free throws to cut the deficit to eight, freshman guard Alex Young (7 points, 5 rebounds) drained a 3 to make it 58-53. But with 8:32 remaining, Burks-Wiley picked up her fourth personal, forcing BU coach Kelly Greenberg to sit her star forward.
With the most feared inside presence in the conference on the bench, the onus fell on the Terrier guards to step up. Senior guard Kristi Dini (15 points, 5 rebounds) did her part by faking McGee out of her shoes and sinking a trey to cut the lead to four. Then Young brought the BU bench and fans to their feet with a laser pass through traffic to a wide-open Kerry Cashman underneath for an easy two.
With 5:36 remaining and the Terriers trailing by two, Kinneary drove hard into the lane and drew a foul. She made both freebies to tie the game at 60, the first tie since it was 28-28.
After Albany opened up a 3-point lead, Dini did what she’s done so many times this season ‘- hit a clutch 3, this time to tie the game with 1:52 left. McGee answered with a trey of her own, only to have Kinneary drive the length of the court and make a layup nine seconds later.
Down by one with 27 seconds left, Young snagged an offensive board after a Burks-Wiley miss and got fouled going up for the put-back. She made 1-of-2 from the charity stripe, tying the game at 67.
McGee had a chance to win it in regulation as she drove the lane looking for contact, only to have her contested jumper miss wide left.
‘We gelled together [in the second half],’ Burks-Wiley said. ‘We talked to coach at halftime and realized who we were and what we came here for. We got our game together and did what we do usually.’
After the Terriers failed to record a single steal in regulation, Umez-Eronini and Kinneary amped up their defense and picked up three in the bonus period. Umez-Eronini’s first, a clean pocket-pick of McGee, led to a 2-on-1 layup for Dini.
With 2:52 left, Kinneary, who scored six of BU’s 10 overtime points, read Iromuanya’s eyes like a ball-hawking free safety, picked off her pass and went down the court for a layup. Umez-Eronini’s final theft led to Kinneary’s game-winning bucket.
The Terriers will take on fourth-seeded Binghamton University Saturday at 4 p.m. in the semifinal round. Full Court Press will be there with live coverage at www.dailyfreepress.com/hoops.