Bowdoin College was just one possession away Friday night, but just as the Polar Bears were closing in on a comeback against the No. 2 ranked team in the country, Kean University finished strong for a 62-51 victory.
Kean ran off eight straight points down the stretch to win Friday’s NCAA Division III Sectional in Union, N.J. The Cougars advance to Saturday’s game with Rochester, which also won Friday with a 74-69 win over Christopher Newport. The winner advances to the Final Four.
Bowdoin trailed by as many as 12 points in the second half, but rallied late and closed to within 54-51 with 5:07 remaining when Katie Bergeron hit a 3-pointer. The Polar Bears had ample chance to get closer. Bergeron missed another 3-pointer and a layup, while Sabrina Cote’s bid for a 3-pointer also missed.
Kean (27-1) answered with two free throws from Tiffany Patrick and a pair from Naimah Clemons to make it 57-51. Patrick hit a jumper after Bergeron missed a 3-pointer to make it 59-51 with 1:44 remaining. Kean added a free throws in the final minute to pad the lead.
Clemons finished with a game-high 18 points and 13 rebounds, while Britanny Powell had 17 points and five steals. Tiffany Patrick added 12 points. Melissa Beyruti, who along with Patrick is an All-American finalist, did not start and played just nine minutes, going scoreless. Kean was held well below its 79.2 points per game average, which ranks third in the nation, and the Cougars hit just one 3-pointer.
Bowdoin (22-7) got 17 points from Bergeron and 13 points and 17 rebounds from Leah Rubega. Kaitlin Donahoe, Amy Hackett, Ellery Gould and Caitlin Hynes all added five points for the Polar Bears.
Bowdoin started strong and its defense did a fine job limiting Kean’s potent offense. The Cougars shot 8-for-31 to open the game and missed its first seven 3-pointers while falling behind by as many as nine points.
The Polars Bears got the early advantage on a Hackett 3-pointer and held the lead for much of the opening half. Kean stayed within reach, but an 8-2 run late in the half increased Bowdoin’s lead to 28-19. Hynes started the spurt by hitting a jumper with 6:11 remaining. After a Powell basket, Bergeron scored and Donahoe hit a free throw. She added a 3-pointer moments later for a 28-19 lead with 4:12 left.
The Cougars called a time out and responded by scoring the final 11 points of the half to take a 30-28 lead by intermission. Clemons drilled a 3-pointer and Powell followed with a pair of baskets to give Kean the 29-28 lead with 1:15 left. Clemons sank a free throw with 50 seconds remaining.
In the second half, Kean stayed hot and took advantage of Bowdoin turnovers. The Polar Bears committed five turnovers in the first four minutes and watched the deficit swell to 42-32 as Kean scored 12 straight. A Powell three-point play was followed by a Clemons basket making it 38-32. After a Bowdoin time out, the Polar Bears turned the ball over twice, leading to Kean baskets. Patrick finished off a Clemons pass to make it a double-digit lead with 15:36 left in the game.
Kean maintained that lead until midway through the half when Bowdoin began to chip away. Free throws by Bergeron and Rubega trimmed the lead and got the Polar Bears within 48-41 with 10:03 remaining. Bergeron cut it to seven again a minute later but baskets by Clemons and Danielle McFadden boosted the lead back to 54-43.
Bowdoin wasn’t done. Baskets by Hynes and Rubega made it 54-47 with 7:24 left. After a Donahoe free throw, Bergeron hit a 3-pointer with 5:07 to make it a three-point game.