Updated: March 03, 2012 12:03 pm (ET)
by America East Communications
West Hartford, Conn.-- No. 2 University at Albany and No. 6 Binghamton University will meet in the second 2012 America East Basketball Championship semifinal on Sunday, March 4 after both finished on top of their quarterfinal contests Friday night. The Great Danes will play in their first semifinal since 2008, while the Bearcats advance to their fifth semifinal game in seven years. The winner of Sunday's semifinal will advance to the program's first-ever America East title game on Saturday, March 10.
The Bearcats (13-17, 6-10 AE) pulled off the upset of the day with a 48-45 win over No. 3 Hartford (19-12, 10-6 AE). Binghamton senior Orla O'Reilly took over the game with 21 points on 9-of-13 shooting and three steals. No other Bearcats reached double-figure scoring, however as a team they held the Hawks to 31.7 percent shooting, including 1-of-20 (5.0 percent) from three-point range.
"She [O'Reilly] hit a few shots early that really got her going," said Binghamton head coach Nicole Scholl. "And defensively, I thought she did a nice job in the zone being aggressive up top and I think that got her going as well. Her teammates found her in the right place at the right time and she was able to knock down shots."
The Hawks took an early 6-0 lead to open the game, but the Bearcats climbed their way back into it with an 11-6 run in the middle of the stanza, including an O'Reilly jumper with 2:46 left to bring the Bearcats within 21-18. Hartford then ended the half with a four-point run that gave Hartford a 25-18 lead going into the break, led by eight points from junior Ruthanne Doherty.
Hartford built up its largest lead of the game, 32-21, with 15:55 left in the second stanza. The momentum swung in Binghamton's favor thereafter as the Bearcats embarked on a 22-7 run spanning nearly the rest of the game. Seniors Viive Rebane and O'Reilly traded field goals capped by an O'Reilly three-pointer at 10:50 to bring the Bearcats to within 32-31. Hartford freshman Cherelle Moore ended the Hawks' drought with a layup at 9:42, but three minutes later O'Reilly hit a jumper to give Binghamton their first lead of the game, 37-36 at 6:51.
Holmes hit six free throws in the final 2:11 of the game to hold off Hartford. Holmes, who didn't compete in last year's tournament due to an injury sustained in the second-to-last regular season game, finished with nine points, nine rebounds and three assists.
Hartford junior Ruthanne Doherty recorded her fifth double-double of the season with 15 points and 10 rebounds. The Hawks will miss their first semifinal round action since 2004.
In University at Albany's (21-9, 14-2 AE) eighth straight win, 74-61 over seventh-seeded University of Vermont (10-20, 4-12 AE), freshman Sarah Royals had a career day while also writing herself into the record books. The rookie scored a career-high 21 points, picked seven thefts and dished out four assists while setting a new tournament record for free-throw attempts with a 14-of-18 performance at the charity stripe. Her free throws made also tied the America East Championship record.
Much of Vermont's offense came from another freshman's career high as forward Niki Taylor tallied a personal-best 22 points to go along with eight rebounds, two helpers and two blocks. Taylor had 10 points before the second media timeout to give Vermont a three-point lead 15-12 at 12:22. Classmate Kayla Burchill nailed one of her five three-pointers at 10:43 to give the Catamounts their largest lead of the game 18-12.
The Albany defense, which allowed a league-low 47.9 points per game in conference games during the regular season, brought the Catamounts' offense to a halt, keeping Vermont from scoring a field goal for over seven minutes until Shanai Heber lifted in a layup with 3:22 left in the half. Albany led 36-29 at the intermission.
Vermont senior Ashley Hoyt scored all 15 of her points in the second half to help the Catamounts claw back into the game, taking a 40-38 lead at 15:56. Rookie Megan Craig tied the game moments later on a layup and two Royals free throws at 14:39 gave the Great Danes back the lead for good.
Junior Julie Forster also had an impressive night with 13 points, 18 rebounds, three blocks and three steals. Freshman Megan Craig swatted two big blocks late in the game while compiling nine points and five rebounds in her first tournament game.
“That’s what makes us so dangerous in this tournament. You can’t stop just one player on our team. To see them step up is amazing, so great," said junior Ebone Henry, the America East Defensive Player of the Year, on the contributions from the rookies.
Sunday's semifinal, the second of the day, will tip off at approximately 1:15 p.m. and will air live exclusively on ESPN3.