Up 17 points with just under five minutes to play in the second quarter, it looked like Boston College women’s basketball was well on its way to the Elite Eight of the National Invitation Tournament (NIT). But 25 minutes later, the Eagles accepted defeat after a major collapse in which BC scored just 30 points across the last three quarters.
“Instead of playing to win, we started playing not to lose,” head coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee said after the game.
Cameron Swartz’s 24 points—her 13th 20-plus point game this season—proved to not be enough on Thursday, as Columbia (25–6, 12–2 lvy League) outscored the Eagles 36–18 in the second half to hand BC a 54–51 loss and end its season.
The Eagles (21–12, 10–8 Atlantic Coast) earned the No. 1 overall seed in the NIT after missing out on the NCAA Tournament by just one spot. After dominating in the first two rounds, it looked as if BC would keep rolling. An ice-cold scoring stretch and a stagnant offense on Thursday, however, cost the Eagles that opportunity.
“I wish I knew,” Bernabei-McNamee when asked what happened offensively. “I’ve never seen us take that much time on the offensive end. We just weren’t playing that aggressive, intense style that we like to do, and I think that might have been because we wanted [to win] so bad.”
BC got off to a quick start, taking a 17–7 lead with just under four minutes left in the first quarter. Taylor Soule started off hot for the Eagles, scoring six early points. Soule, however, wasn’t able to replicate that start for the remainder of the game, as she finished with 5-of-18 shooting from the field.
Swartz took on the scoring load for the Eagles, and a free throw from the senior in the second quarter put BC up by 17 points—its largest lead of the game. With a 33–18 lead at halftime, the Eagles showed no signs of slowing down. But that all changed in the second half.
The Eagles’ shots stopped falling, as they hit only six of their 29 shots from the field in the second half, good for 20.7 percent. Columbia—despite mounting a comeback—also struggled from the field, and the Lions finished 0 of 20 from beyond the arc.
“One of our goals was to protect the 3-point line and really get [Columbia] to go to other things to try to score, and we did a pretty good job with that,” Bernabei-McNamee said.
It was the Eagles’ inability to capitalize off turnovers and Columbia’s relentless pursuit of points in the paint that caused BC’s lead to slowly fade away. The Lions finished with 34 points in the paint, and a 7–0 Columbia run at the end of the third quarter cut its deficit to six. The Eagles up 41–35 heading into the final quarter.
Despite the Eagles’ scoring struggles, they held onto their lead until the very end. Columbia only led for a total of 12 seconds in the game. With BC up 51–50 with under 15 seconds left, the Lions pressured Swartz. Columbia’s Kaitlyn Davis pounced on the ball, resulting in a jump ball to give Columbia the possession. Davis set up Jaida Patrick for a wide-open layup to win the game with four seconds left.
A desperate 3-point attempt by Swartz as the clock ticked down was no good, and the Eagles saw their NIT Championship hopes crushed.
Outside of Swartz, offense was hard to come by for the Eagles. Maria Gakdeng, who has stood out on BC’s roster this season, struggled to get her usual short-range looks, finishing with two points, tied for her lowest-scoring game of the season. And as a team that averages 5.9 3-pointer per game, BC only hit two in the game.
“Our freshmen looked like freshmen for the first time all year,” Bernabei-McNamee said. “That’s what pressure in the postseason does to people.”
Dontavia Waggoner, however, was a bright spot in BC’s lineup, notching a career-high 11 rebounds along with nine points.
The Eagles finished the year with their second 20-win season in three years and their first postseason berth since 2011. Bernabei-McNamee, while disappointed, said BC experienced some positives from the tournament overall and that the future looks bright for the Eagles.
“Anytime you get to extend your season and get more games, it’s good for everybody,” she said. “It definitely puts us in that next tier of teams that we want to be in. And then, of course, our end goal is to get to the NCAA Tournament, so I think [this] puts us one step closer.”
Featured Image by Lenya Singer / For the Heights