By Christian Hince | February 12, 2024
Lilly Phillips made all nine free-throw attempts Thursday against Binghamton.
Photo Credit: Christian Hince / ASP
Just a week after Lilly Phillips laid on the floor of the Broadview Center after a right leg injury, the third-year guard had her most productive game ever since coming to the University at Albany in a 60-52 win over Binghamton on Thursday. She scored a career-high 19 points in front of a 3,701-strong crowd of mostly schoolchildren from across the Albany area on Commitment to Education Day.
“I kind of just let the game come to me,” she said. “I feel like I just saw some openings, and I just took the opportunity.”
It was far from the cleanest shooting day for Phillips, who went 4-13 from the field despite having a mark of 44.6 percent across the year. Where she excelled was the free-throw line, making all nine attempts she got. Having played 39 minutes Thursday, this physical effort came in spite of a persisting injury, something which made head coach Colleen Mullen proud.
“She's literally the most coachable, nicest kid you could ever imagine,” Mullen said. “She'll do anything to help the team be successful.”
Phillips’ attrition was a necessary thing against the Bearcats. UAlbany's already trim roster of nine players was cut down to eight with Megan Huerter walking onto the court in a sling less than 24 hours after being fully healthy due to what Mullen called “a freak thing” in practice on Wednesday (2/7).
Thursday was one of UAlbany’s roughest first half showings at home, heading into the locker room down 27-21 after committing 11 turnovers and shooting 32 percent. Helene Haegerstrand had an especially difficult half, turning the ball over six times and going 1-5 from the field.
“We weren't working side by side, we weren't making the defense work, we were just trying to force things,” Mullen said.
10 minutes later, the game’s direction had changed completely. The Great Danes outscored Binghamton 23-10 in the third quarter, effectively slowing down the Bearcat offense with full-court pressure and forcing six turnovers in the period.
“When some of our offensive players like Meg [are] out – and that's tough – you need to dig in and find other ways to impact the game and control the tempo,” Mullen said. “That’s certainly what we try to do on the defensive end.”
On offense, the paint opened up for UAlbany after halftime, with 21 of their 26 points in the paint Thursday coming in the final two quarters.
“[The Bearcats] were really pressing out on us in the first half and taking away our space,” Kayla Cooper said. “I think once we spaced out and really executed and had pace we were able to find those lanes and drives.”
After going 1-6 shooting in the first half, Cooper finished the game with 13 points on 6-13 from the field while leading the Great Danes in boards with eight. The game’s “kid’s day” packaging made her reminisce on similar childhood experiences, having grown up near the University of Maryland and their historic women’s basketball tradition.
“I remember when I was a kid going to games like that, it was such a good experience,” she said. “I looked up to the girls that I would watch [playing] and just to be in that position was so surreal.”
The Great Danes are 20-3 overall and 9-1 in the America East with Thursday’s win. It marks the third-straight year that Mullen’s program has won 20 or more games, but right now, she has no interest in letting that accomplishment be a distraction.
“The minute you kind of think about the past you can't help but let that complacency set in,” she said. “We have to stay hungry and we have to stay opportunistic so that we can continue to get better for March.”