LORETTO, Pa. - UMBC's amazing run in the women's Northeast Conference basketball tournament ended yesterday afternoon.
The Retrievers answered every challenge from perennial conference power St. Francis, for 30 minutes in the championship game. The home team, in front of a women's record crowd of 2,012, then pulled away for a 58-41 victory to get an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament.
"I couldn't be more proud of our program right now," first-year UMBC coach Phil Stern said. "The way we represented UMBC the past week has never been done before, men's or women's basketball."
The seventh-seeded Retrievers (14-16) knocked off No. 2 seed Quinnipiac and No. 3 seed Monmouth to reach the title game.
"A lot of people didn't expect us to be here," UMBC sophomore forward Lara Seamon said. "Our whole season there were so many unexpected things that happened."
St. Francis (23-7), the league regular-season champion, led throughout but never by a comfortable margin. That changed midway through the second half as the Red Flash, up 39-35, slowly pulled away for its 21st straight victory in the NEC tournament.
"We worked hard for that win," said St. Francis coach Myndi Hill, whose team earned its seventh NCAA tournament berth in eight years. "It's fun to be a part of this team. I'm really proud to be their coach."
The Red Flash tied the school record for wins in a season .
"St. Francis, Pa., believe me, they don't deserve a 16 seed," Stern said. "They're a very good basketball team."
Tournament Most Valuable Player Beth Swink scored 22 points to lead St. Francis. It was the sophomore center's eighth straight game with at least 20. She opened the game's decisive spurt with a basket inside, and Sami Allison hit one of her four three-pointers a minute later for a 44-35 lead with 9:33 to play.
"They have so many weapons, you can't just say we have to stop Swink," Stern said.
Senior guard Shalayna Johnson, a member of the all-tournament team, paced UMBC with 11 points, 10 below her average. Sophomore Millette Green added nine and sophomore Christina Catalanotto eight.
UMBC led only once, 9-7, but hung tough in the first half despite St. Francis' home-court advantage. Three busloads of Retrievers fans helped the visitors, who trailed 28-25 at the break.
St. Francis got its first breathing room at 35-29 with 14:01 to play, but UMBC closed to 39-35 during the next four minutes.
The deficit reached double digits for the first time, 48-38, on a basket by Tonjee Ward with six minutes left. UMBC's deliberate offense, which sparked the postseason run, couldn't catch up, as the Red Flash held the Retrievers to 36.7 percent shooting for the game.
"We answered every call until about midway through the second half," Stern said. "Across the board, they're probably a little more talented than we are. ... Their experience was going to come into play at one point, and it did probably halfway through the second half."
UMBC-Green 4-8 1-2 9, Seamon 3-5 0-0 6, Catalanotto 3-6 0-0 8, Brown 2-10 0-0 5, Johnson 5-15 0-0 11, Goncharova 0-3 0-0 0, Coll 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 18-49 1-2 41. ST. FRANCIS (PA.)-Ward 5-10 0-0 12, Chesick 3-6 2-2 8, Swink 8-15 6-6 22, Hewitt 0-3 0-0 0, Allison 4-8 2-2 14, Black 1-3 0-2 2, Van Der Leest 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 21-46 10-12 58. Half-St. Francis, 28-25. 3-point goals: UMBC 4-23 (Catalanotto 2-5, Johnson 1-7, Brown 1-8, Seamon 0-1, Goncharova 0-2), St. Francis 6-13 (Allison 4-5, Ward 2-3, Chesick 0-1, Black 0-2). Rebounds-UMBC 24 (Green 9), St. Francis 34 (Chesick 11). Assists-UMBC 8 (Brown 4), St. Francis 16 (Allison, Black 4). Total fouls-UMBC 11, St. Francis 5. A-2,012.