ALBANY, N.Y. — The University of Maine women’s basketball team fell from the America East tournament in the first round Friday night, ending the season with a 64-63 overtime loss to Hartford.
The Black Bears, who won just four games a year ago, finished this season with a 16-14 record and a sophomore-dominated lineup.
Hartford (13-17) advanced to an 11 a.m. game Sunday against the University of Albany, the tournament host and No. 1 seed.
Maine, which opted out of last year’s tournament after a bus crash two games before the end of the season, hasn’t won a quarterfinal game since 2004, the year of its last America East championship.
After rallying from a 12-point deficit the Black Bears were in position to clear that hurdle, but Shanise Bultron’s 3-pointer with 2:11 remaining in overtime put the Hawks ahead to stay.
“What’s been an Achilles’ heel of our team all year is the way we finish a game,” Maine Coach Richard Barron said. “We’ve not been very strong the last two minutes of games. It was the case again tonight, (with) our execution down the stretch.”
Ashleigh Roberts, one of the two senior starters, led a rally after the Bears fell behind 13-2, then 26-14 with less than seven minutes to play in the half.
Roberts had 16 of her 20 points in the second half as Maine, which didn’t get its first lead until 10:27 to play in regulation, led by as many as five.
“We didn’t play our best basketball but Maine had a lot to do with that,” Hartford Coach Jennifer Rizzotti said. “Ashleigh Roberts made huge plays.”
Maine freshman Sigi Kolzar, whose layup with 1:15 left forced overtime, hit a 3-pointer with 0.4 seconds to play, but the Black Bears, who started three sophomores, ran out of time.
“There’s a lot of things to be excited about coming back,” Barron said. “We’ve got a strong nucleus. We lose a lot with (Roberts) but she’s left an impression on this team in terms of the transformation she’s made in her time here. Those are lessons everyone learned from her.”
In a game with eight ties and eight lead changes, Maine led 48-43 with 5:38 to play. La’Trice Hall erased that for Hartford with her only five points – a three-point play and a layup.
Maine finished with nine 3-pointers made and set a school single-season record. The Black Bears’ 32 attempted 3-pointers tied a tournament record.
At No. 4, Maine came into the tournament with its highest seed since 2005, when it was No. 1 and lost its first game to No. 8 Binghamton. That was the last time the Black Bears had as many as 16 wins until this year.
“What we’ve done this season, being able to turn it around, is more than I could have ever hoped for,” said Roberts. “Obviously I didn’t want it to end the way it ended. I still wanted to do a little more, but I’m so grateful that I got the opportunity that I did to play here.”
Maine got its first lead, 39-38, on Richards’ follow-up with 10:27 to play. The Black Bears built the lead to 48-43 on Liz Wood’s 3-pointer with 5:38 left.
The Black Bears never led in the first half. The Hawks took an 11-2 lead, including three 3-pointers by Amber Bepko.
Maine closed the halftime margin to five on Lauren Bodine’s 25-foot buzzer-beater, her third 3-pointer of the opening half.
“It’s important to recognize the progress we’ve made, but your career in college basketball is short,” said Wood, who scored 11 points. “For me, I’m disappointed we couldn’t do it fast enough, especially for (Roberts). She’s been a big influence on me.”
“We have to always appreciate where you come from,” Barron said. “We’ve made a lot of progress, and there’s a lot more we expect of our team and we expect of our players. The players want to tell you they’re proud, but they don’t want to act like they’re satisfied. That’s a really good sign.”