Star players in the starting lineup usually play a major role in the success of a championship team, but sometimes, a high-energy bench can be just as important.
With Binghamton giving the two-time defending champion University at Albany women’s basketball team all it could handle, the Great Danes used 30 points from bench standouts Imani Tate, a freshman, and Sarah Royals, a junior, to finally pull away from the Bearcats, 77-59, in the opening round of the America East Conference tournament Friday night at SEFCU Arena.
The Great Danes play Hartford, which defeated Maine in overtime in the final game Friday, in the semifinals Sunday at 11 a.m.
Eighth-seeded Binghamton (2-14 AE, 5-25 overall) double-teamed both Player of the Year Shereesha Richards and 6-foot-9 junior center Megan Craig for most of the game, but the foul-plagued Danes were able to avoid an upset with help from Tate, who finished with a career-high 18 points, nine rebounds, four assists and two steals, and Royals, who, despite getting banged on the forehead, chipped in with 12 points and eight assists to set the Danes’ single-season record (141) in that category. Tate and Royals combined to shoot 13-for-19 from the floor.
“Obviously, Imani Tate came in and did what we’ve wanted her to do all year long, and that’s to play with confidence,” said UAlbany head coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson.
“Getting 30 points off the bench is huge. In order to play the way we do, we need our bench. I had Tammy Phillip and Imani Tate shoot a lot of short jump shots in practice so they would be ready for this.”
“Coach put me in to keep playing like [starter] Tammy Phillip. She wanted me to be aggressive and keep shooting the basketball,” said Tate, who averaged just 3.8 points per game in the regular season. Her previous career high was 16 against Hartford.
Abrahamson-Henderson, the three-time Coach of the Year, said the Great Danes (26-4) have changed their offensive strategy in recent weeks because opposing teams are clamping down so much on their inside scoring strength.
“We need to be more creative offensively,” she said. “We don’t play our normal offensive game anymore.”
Although she was held in check for most of the first half, Richards came on strong in the second half and finished with 18 points and eight rebounds, a few notches below her league-leading averages in both categories. Phillip, a senior who kept the Danes going early in the first half, finished with eight points, seven rebounds and four assists.
“It’s hard to live up to a certain standard,” said Richards. “But we accept the challenge. Expectations are high, but that’s OK.”
Royals, a starter in almost half of the Great Danes’ games and the league leader in assists, put the game into perspective.
“Everyone is rooting for the spoiler,” she said. “Everyone loves an upset, but we have each other’s backs. We have to stick together.”
Binghamton took a 7-4 lead before the Danes used an 11-0 run to open up a 15-7 cushion. With Tate knocking down three jumpers in succession, UAlbany eventually pulled out to a 47-27 halftime edge.
But Binghamton sliced the UAlbany advantage to 10 on two different occasions in the second half (50-40 and 62-52) before the Danes pulled away again behind Royals and Richards.
Murphy 5-10 3-7 13, Swinson 10-19 0-0 21, Newry 2-8 3-5 7, Jensen 2-3 0-0 6, Paulk 2-12 2-2 7, Ross 0-0 0-0 0, Albrecht 1-2 2-2 5, Barac 0-0 0-0 0 .Totals: 22-54 10-16 59.
Phillip 4-8 0-0 8, Richards 8-14 2-4 18, Craig 6-11 0-0 12, Coughlin 2-4 0-0 5 Rosario 1-5 2-3 4, Royals 5-7 2-3 12, Tate 8-12 2-2 18, Edwards 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 34-62 8-12 77.
Halftime: UAlbany, 47-27. Three-point goals: Binghamton 5-16 (Swinson 1-3, Newry 0-2, Jensen 2-3, Paulk 1-6, Albrecht 1-2); UAlbany 1-4 (Coughlin 1-2, Rosario 0-2). Rebounds: Binghamton 24 (Murphy 7), UAlbany 44 (Tate 9). Assists: Binghamton 15 (Newry 6), UAlbany (Royals 8). Total fouls: Binghamton 15, UAlbany 18