Coming off its first loss of the season against Manhattan, the women’s basketball team knew Tuesday’s game against URI could determine whether it continued its stellar season or faded back to Earth. The Bears (7-1) were determined not to go down without a fight.
Head Coach Sarah Behn “said this was probably the most important game of our season,” said co-captain Ellise Sharpe ’16. “After losing, we needed a win, and we couldn’t just sulk in our misery that we had a loss and our perfect season was over. We needed to get that win, get back on the horse.”
But facing off against Rhode Island (2-4), which defeated Brown 65-61 last year, the game did not begin auspiciously for Bruno. As has happened multiple times this season, the Bears were sluggish in the first quarter and trailed by as much as 11. But as the quarter expired, Shayna Mehta ’19 hit a shot from just inside the arc, and the Bears began the second quarter with momentum, if not much.
“Our defense wasn’t there yet in the beginning,” Mehta said. “Once we knew what they were doing and knew how to defend them better, we were able to get some stops. As our defense came, we started making shots. It took us a while, but once that started clicking, everything came with it.”
“We weren’t hitting our shots,” Sharpe said. “That got in our way, because we’re used to hitting shots, and the other team was definitely hitting theirs. But (Behn) just told us to keep shooting, and everyone’s shots started to fall. And we played stellar defense, so that got us through.”
True to form, Bruno rebounded — literally and figuratively — in the second quarter. Three minutes in, URI had expanded its lead to 28-16. Then the Bears came to life: In the final seven minutes of the quarter, they outscored the Rams 18-4. Mehta, who recorded a season-high 21 points, ended the half with two consecutive threes.
“Any game it can be a different person,” Sharpe said. “We have somebody each game who can step up and hit the game-winning shots,” she said, citing Mehta and Erika Steeves ’19 as past examples.
As URI continued to score in the third quarter, Mehta kept the Bears in the game. With her team down 37-34, she hit a three to tie the game, and she hit another with Bruno down 40-39, putting the Bears up by two. In the second and third quarters, the Bears held URI to 25 points while scoring 39.
Even after the successful middle quarters, Brown led by only five, making it by far its closest game of the season. URI did not fade as the fourth quarter wound down: The Rams cut the Bears’ lead to three with 4:13 remaining, but Mehta hit a three to bring it back to six.
With under three minutes remaining, they closed to within four, but Mehta hit another three to put the Bears seven points up. As the clock wound down, the Rams attempted to foul to stop the clock, but co-captain Jordin Alexander ’16 hit two free throws with four seconds remaining, giving the Bears a four-point lead and essentially ending the game.
“Last year, we lost by a couple of points (to URI). That’s how we’ve grown as a team,” Mehta said. “To not think about it as much and to just play our game — that’s really what helps me, and I know it helps a lot of us too.”
The Bears moved to 6-1 with the win, remaining atop the Ivy standings with a half-game lead over Columbia and Princeton. Ivy play begins Jan. 16 against Yale.
Against Binghamton Thursday, the Bears were slow in the first quarter: Despite Alexander’s 10 points, they trailed 18-17 at the end of the period. But once again, they began playing up to their potential in the second quarter, outscoring the Bearcats 22-17. The Bears’ first half scoring came largely from two sources: Alexander had 14 points at the half, and Mary Butler ’19 had 10. The third quarter was largely even, though the Bears were able to pull ahead by two additional points to take a 58-50 lead into the fourth quarter.
Binghamton did not fade down the stretch: With 14.6 seconds remaining, it had the ball down by only two. But Alexander deflected the inbounds pass, and the Bears took possession. It would not last: Binghamton took the ball back, and scored with six seconds remaining to tie the game.
Alexander took the ensuing inbound pass and dribbled the length of the floor. From near the top of the key, she placed her shot perfectly, lofting a one-handed layup off the glass that banked in for the win as time expired.
“I’m going to have to pray tonight,” Behn said. “I’m really excited. We didn’t play a good game, but to be able to get that shot up at the end — I’m just grateful.”
“They’re a good team, but I know we can play a lot better too,” she added. “We made so many mental and physical errors that we can clean up.”
The Bears now enter the break at 7-1 — their best start in team history.
“Obviously, I’m really pleased with our record,” Behn said. “We may not have shown it today, but we’re making good strides forward every day, and that’s all you can ask for.”