By Christian Hince | February 24, 2023
On Saturday, the University of Albany surged in the final four minutes to knock off the University of Maine Black Bears, 53-50.
UAlbany inbounds during the fourth quarter.
Photo credit: Christian Hince
With this result, the visiting Black Bears fell to 9-5 in the America East and 13-13 overall. Meanwhile the Great Danes, moving to 13-2 in conference and 19-10 overall, clinched at least one home game in the America East Conference tournament.
With just over three minutes left in the fourth, Maine led 48-44 when UAlbany forward Helene Haegerstrand drained a three off an assist from guard Kayla Cooper. Cooper was electrifying on both ends in the game’s late moments. After stumping explosive Maine forward Adrianna Smith in the paint on the next possession, she posted up on Smith for a layup which gave UAlbany its first lead of the quarter, 49-48.
Cooper stayed tenacious following a Maine timeout, making a layup and heading to the foul line on UAlbany’s next possession. Completing the three-point play, her ninth and final drawn foul put the Great Danes up 52-48 with 1:54 remaining.
Smith ended UAlbany’s eight-point run however with a difficult hook shot over guard Grace Heeps. After a Cooper turnover and Maine timeout as the game entered its final minute, Smith had a clean cut to the hoop for a layup which missed and fell into the arms of Cooper. UAlbany guard Morgan Haney then dribbled the clock below 30 seconds before dumping it off to Haegerstrand whose 3-pointer, originally ruled to be blocked, was found to be an air-ball.
After Maine dribbled out some clock, combo player Caroline Bornemann’s layup missed but found Smith for a contested rebound followed by a team timeout. With 10 seconds left, Bornemann again drove towards the basket when Great Danes forward Lucia Decortes, coming off a four block game, dealed another crucial rejection, giving UAlbany possession at the six second mark.
Following a quick foul and a 1-2 free throw line trip from UAlbany guard Ellen Hahne, Maine had one last opportunity down three. Facing full court pressure, guard Sara Hodgson inbounded to Smith, who hesitated before finding guard Jaycie Christopher for a rushed, off-balance three pointer which fell under the basket as time expired.
Despite her struggles in the final minute, Maine’s Smith was stellar on the night. The America East’s leading scorer finished with 22 points on 10-16 shooting and 2-4 from the free-throw line along with 6 rebounds. Her 10 in the third quarter catalyzed the Black Bears, who entered the final 10 minutes up 40-38. “You can't double her because they've got three point shooters, and she's a good passer,” UAlbany head coach Colleen Mullen of Smith said in a postgame interview.
The incendiary forward’s lack of presence shaped the game as well. With Smith only playing nine minutes in the first half because of two first quarter fouls, Maine scored just six in the first quarter and trailed 25-19 at break.
UAlbany matched Smith with two high-powered performances of their own, one coming from Haegerstrand who scored 17 on 3-5 from three and 7-13 total from the floor. Cooper’s second straight week of clutch rebounding and foul-line shooting made for a double-double at 19 points, seven from the line, and 11 rebounds, six on the offensive side of the floor.
The junior guard was happy to redeem a difficult first half where she shot 2-10 from the field. “I just needed to slow down,” Cooper said. “Once I slow down and I see what I can do, then it usually helps me.”
On top of avenging a heartbreaking 50-49 loss at Maine in January, Saturday was Coach Mullen’s first ever regular season victory over the Black Bears in her five-year tenure at UAlbany.
Unflinching at this storyline however, Mullen was more concerned with the Great Danes’ ability to continue performing once tournament play begins. “It's just another conference game,” she said postgame. “There's a whole other season that's going to happen in a week and a half.”
Playing their final regular season game at NJIT on Saturday, UAlbany can clinch the top seed in the America East Conference Playoffs with a win and a Vermont loss in either of the Catamounts’ two remaining games.