BRUNSWICK — A year ago, the Bowdoin College women’s basketball team was eliminated from the NCAA Division III tournament in the first round on its home court. Friday night, the Polar Bears were determined not to let that happen again.

Bowdoin put together a couple runs in the second half to pull away from Babson 70-57 in the opening round of this year’s tournament at Morrell Gymnasium.

Sara Binkhorst scored 16 of her game-high 19 points and Marle Curle added 10 of her 16 in the second half to lead the Polar Bears’ charge.

“We just talked about how we’re not ready for this season to be over,” said Binkhorst, who scored seven consecutive points in one streak to help Bowdoin build a 14-point lead. “Just, really, using the loss from last year as fuel and learning from it that you have to go into the tournament with a whole new attitude, with a sense of focus and intensity.”

The Polar Bears (24-4) will play Ithaca (23-5) at 7 p.m. Saturday in the second round, also at their home gym. The Bombers defeated the College of Mount Saint Vincent 82-72 in the other game Friday.

Ithaca built a big first-half lead but had to pull away in the final 3:30 after the Dolphins tied the game at 67. Ithaca’s Ali Ricchiuti scored nine consecutive points – a 3-pointer and six foul shots – to put her team back in front.

Bowdoin’s game was a defensive battle and the Polar Bears were able to hold Babson 13 points below its season average.

“We seemed to be a little slow pushing the ball up court, which has been our game all year,” said Beavers Coach Judy Blinstrub. “I thought they did a good job just taking us out of it and making us think twice about everything.”

“I was just really happy with our defensive effort the entire game,” said Bowdoin Coach Adrienne Shibles. “I thought we had a couple lapses in the second half but that was really the big reason for the outcome of the game.”

Bowdoin was able to win with its leading scorer, Shannon Brady, held to six points. But Binkhorst, Curle and Ally Silfen (13 points) picked up the slack.

“Everyone did a good job for them,” said Blinstrub.

Bowdoin led only 38-32 four minutes into the second half. That’s when the Polar Bears started their first run, a 10-2 streak that extended the margin to 48-34.

Binkhorst had seven straight in that streak – a jumper from the right elbow, a drive and a 3-pointer from the left wing – and Silfen finished it with a 3-point shot from the right wing.

Babson rallied to within 52-47 on a jumper by Giovanna Pickering (17 points) with 7:50 left. But Silfen hit a tough turn-around jumper in the lane, then Curle hit what might have been the biggest basket – a 3-pointer from the top of the key as the shot clock was about to expire.

“The bench does a great job of communicating the shot clock,” said Curle. “So I knew and I just shot it.”

Shibles called that a huge shot: “Actually I’ve been on Marle a little bit lately that when the shot clock goes down I really want her to take her shot more. I was pleased she did that today.”

A couple minutes later, Curle passed to Lauren Petit on the right wing and Petit drilled another 3-pointer, making it 61-47 with 5:00 remaining. The two nearly jumped into each other’s arms after the shot went in.

“I have all the faith in my teammates and I get pumped up when they make big-time shots like that,” said Curle.

Now the Polar Bears are prepared for their second-round game.

“We’re just really glad to have one more game,” said Binkhorst.

“We’re just taking it one team, one game, at a time.”

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: MikeLowePPH