UNIONTOWN, Pa. -- Penn State Brandywine fell one game short of reaching the national title game for the first time as the No. 5 Lions, playing in their first-ever United States Collegiate Athletic Association Women's Basketball Tournament semifinal, were edged by No. 1 Central Maine College, the defending USCAA champion, by a score of 71-58 late Friday night.
Brandywine, which had won 18 of its previous 19 games before Friday, completed the 2017-18 season with a record of 22-7, matching the 2016-17 squad's single-season victory record. The Lions, under 12th-year Head Coach Larry Johnson, were making back-to-back USCAA Tournament appearances for the first time in seven years after capturing their second-straight conference championship.
The teams matched each other basket-for-basket during the first seven minutes of the game, but Central Maine took command, burying a trio of three-pointers during the final 3:13 to close the first quarter with a 9-0 surge.
Alex Bussey added to the Mustangs' lead with a free throw to begin the second period before Brandywine rallied behind all-American Brandi James (Glenolden, Pa./Interboro), who netted five of the Lions' seven points during a 7-0 spurt that closed the deficit to 21-16.
Alyssa Abbonizio (Springfield, Pa./Springfield) brought the deficit to just four points with a layup off a feed from James at the 6:10 mark, but Central Maine outscored the Lions 13-9 over the final six minutes, extending the margin to nine points at the break when Kristen Huntress knocked down a triple just before the buzzer.
Central Maine's lead had grown to 15 points by the midway point of the third quarter, but Brandywine began to chip away as First Team All-American Nikki Velez (Gloucester, N.J./Gloucester City) sank a layup, starting a 12-4 run that she would later cap with a long triple, bringing Brandywine within seven points at 49-42.
However, Central Maine, for the third quarter in a row, ended the period with a triple, this one from Natalie Thurber, pushing the lead back to double figures. Thurber opened the fourth quarter by burying another three-pointer, upping the count to 55-42.
Brandywine sliced the deficit down to eight points when Kendra Stanford (Philadelphia, Pa./William Bodine) sank a layup at the 7:15 mark, but the Mustangs once again countered immediately with a triple. Five minutes later, James sank a putback layup to reduce the deficit to single digits; however, Brandywine could not muster a further comeback.
Three-point shooting proved to be the difference as CMCC knocked down eight triples, while Brandywine connected on just 4-of-22 attempts. Undersized against a much taller opponent, Brandywine held its own on the glass, outrebounding the Mustangs 51-44, while shooting 36 percent from the field.
James collected a 17-point, 12-rebound double-double for Brandywine after shooting 7-of-11 from the field. Velez added eight points, while Stanford chipped in six.
A pair of seniors played their final games in a Brandywine uniform Friday night. Abbonizio registered eight points and five boards, finishing her 100-game career with 496 points, while Chrissy Gledhill (Secane, Pa./Cardinal O'Hara) added six points and three assists to complete her four-year career with 498 points in 97 games.
Central Maine, which posted five players in double-figure scoring, but none with more than 12 points, will play Johnson & Wales (N.C.) for the national title on Saturday afternoon.