ALBANY, N.Y. — There was four years’ worth of drama crammed into the final minute of the America East Conference women’s basketball championship game. Friday night

Albany and Maine got big baskets from their biggest stars to leave the Great Danes ahead by one point with 55 seconds remaining.

The 1,519 fans at SEFCU Arena were reduced to a tense murmuring as Albany called two timeouts on its ensuing possession just to get off a contested jump shot from Imani Tate. Maine’s Lauren Bodine leaped to corral the rebound and the Black Bears upped the anxiety level by taking their final timeout.

Sigi Koizar and Mikaela Gustafsson each took shots for the victory in the final three seconds, but neither was on target, leaving Albany to exhale after earning a 59-58 win and its fifth straight trip to the NCAA tournament. Maine came up a point short of its first March Madness appearance in 12 years.

“They came in here fighting,” a relieved Albany coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson said, one of the nets dangling from her neck. “It was probably the best championship game that we’ve ever had here.”

Top-seeded Albany (27-4) had won its previous four tournament titles by a combined 50 points. But there was no running away from the Black Bears (26-8), the second seed who had split their last four meetings with the Great Danes.


Maine erased a seven-point deficit in the second quarter to grab a seven-point lead in the third. Then Great Danes forward Shereesha Richards took over, scoring 21 of her game-high 31 points in the second half to bring her team back.

When she wasn’t making short bank shots, she was getting fouled. Richards made 9 of 10 free throws while Gustafsson and Liz Wood were forced to the Maine bench with foul trouble.

“When we made the substitutions, it took too long to adjust,” Maine Coach Richard Barron said. “When we made our rotations to new people on Richards, we would give up a 6-0 run in a 40- to 60-second span before we realized, ‘Oh yeah, this is what we’re supposed to do.’ ”

Finally, a Tate jumper gave Albany its first lead of the second half at 51-49 with 5:29 remaining. The Great Danes, winning their 14th consecutive America East tournament game, never trailed again.

But the Black Bears kept the pressure on, even after Wood fouled out. Koizar drove for a layup to cut the deficit to 55-52 with 2:14 left. Bodine hit her lone 3-pointer of the game to pull her team within 57-55 with 1:37 remaining.

After Richards’ final basket, Koizar answered with a step-back 3-pointer to set up the agonizing final minute, prolonged by three timeouts and an intentional foul called on Chantel Charles of Maine.


Koizar, who led Maine with 15 points, ran the clock down from 21 seconds to 2.6, reversing direction in the lane only to come up short on a floater.

Maine’s fate seemed sealed when Charles wrapped up Cassandra Edwards of Albany before the ball was even inbounded, a flagrant foul that gave the Danes two free throws and the ball back. Edwards missed both free throws, and Albany’s next inbound attempt sailed over the baseline after four players got tangled up and Richards, the intended target, thudded to the court without a foul being called.

This time, Sophie Weckstrom of Maine inbounded the ball to Gustafsson at the 3-point line, where Edwards denied her a good look at the basket. Gustafsson’s desperation heave, as she was falling, was well off.

Albany celebrated while the Black Bears were left to contemplate another trip to the WNIT.

They will learn their opponent Monday night. But for a team with eight seniors who have traveled so far since a 4-24 season three years ago, Friday’s ending was staggering.

“We lost by one point. I missed two free throws,” said Wood, a senior who ranks among the top eight in program history in points, rebounds and assists. “You can’t judge a game by the last play. There’s lots of places we could have made up one or two points.”


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