BANGOR — It should never come as a surprise when a Maine women’s basketball game is decided in the final possession.
But it was certainly an improbable scenario Sunday.
Black Bears senior guard Cherrish Wallace had the ball in front of her bench with 6.8 seconds remaining and a chance to finish off an Albany team that has toyed with the America East Conference. The Great Danes engulfed her, leaving her with no one to pass to and 6-foot-9 center Megan Craig directly in her path to the basket.
Craig blocked Wallace’s shot, Maine was forced to foul and Albany hung on for a 58-56 victory before an announced crowd of 1,425 at the Cross Insurance Center.
“The play was for me to pop out to the corner and receive the ball and get a screen from anybody who was in the area at the time,” Wallace said. “I figured the trap was going to come, though.”
Albany was nearly the team that fell into a trap. The Great Danes entered play with a 35-game win streak in conference play. They had dominated their 12 league games by an average of 27 points, with none of them decided by fewer than 10.
Wallace led a spirited charge by the home team with 16 points and five assists. But, again, the Black Bears (14-12, 8-5) came up just short. It was the fifth game they’ve lost by two points or fewer, or in overtime. And Coach Richard Barron has each of those results memorized.
“I’m just tired, like the rest of our team, being on the short end,” Barron said. “Four of those have happened here at home. We’ve got to correct that. We’ve got to come out on top at home in these close games. Hartford, New Hampshire, Albany now, all three conference games, Yale and Sacred Heart on the road. … And in most of them, the disparity in free throws is a big part of it.”
Albany (23-3, 13-0) made 13 of 18 free throws in the second half. The Great Danes scored their final four points on free throws, including a pair by Margarita Rosario with 15 seconds left that proved to be the game-winners.
Rosario’s free throws came after Wallace tried to steal a pass at the wing, but arrived late and bumped into her instead. Wallace, a sprite 5-6, had three steals and also blocked two shots earlier, emblematic of the effort Maine gave in reining in the league’s top-scoring offense at 73 points per game.
It was a stark turnaround from Maine’s loss at Albany on Jan. 18. In that game, the Black Bears trailed by only four at halftime before losing 84-56.
“I don’t know if we thought it was good enough to stay with them in the first half or what. We came out dead in the second half,” Maine forward Liz Wood said. “So I think this game, we did a lot better of keeping the intensity up and even putting on the gas more.”
Maine took its final lead, 56-55, with 1:21 remaining when Wood drew Craig away from the basket, then found a cutting Anna Heise for a layup and a foul that resulted in a three-point play.
The fact that the Black Bears couldn’t finish off the upset didn’t prevent everyone from looking ahead to a potential rematch with Albany when the conference tournament begins March 7. Albany Coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson spoke twice about defensive adjustments her team would need to make on Wallace.
“We’ll see them again.” Wood vowed.
“Everyone in the gym today knew that we were right there with them. That was our game. One possession, one more shot. They know we’re coming after them in the tournament.”
Mark Emmert can be contacted at 791-6424 or T: