Heartstopper: First-place STAC pulls away late, hands women's basketball Valentine's Day defeat

Nina Vukosavljevic drives against STAC during Wednesday's loss.
Nina Vukosavljevic drives against STAC during Wednesday's loss.

SPARKILL, N.Y. — NYIT women's basketball earning the right to host an opening-round East Coast Conference playoff game got slightly more tenuous Wednesday.

The Bears suffered an 80-62 loss to ECC-leading St. Thomas Aquinas on Valentine's Day and now lead Daemen by only one game in the loss column for the right to host a No. 4 vs. No. 5 matchup to begin the league tournament.

NYIT already has clinched a spot in the six-team ECC tournament, so only the seeding remains uncertain.

After trailing by nine points early in the third quarter against STAC on Wednesday, NYIT clawed within 42-39 when Nina Vukosavljevic was fouled on a trey from the left corner and converted a four-point play and Maia Hood followed with a driving layup.

The Bears narrowed their deficit to two points later in the quarter, but never caught the Spartans (23-3, 15-1 ECC), who are fourth in the newly released East Region rankings.

"I think we competed," coach Kenny Parham said. "We played hard for, maybe, three-fourths of the game. But there were times during the game where they just outplayed us and played harder than we did. We just have to figure out how to sustain for four quarters playing really, really hard. We're still working at it. We're going to get there, but today we played hard for about 75 percent of the game."

NYIT dealt with some foul trouble. That included Shalie Frierson picking up her fourth foul with 2 minutes, 50 seconds remaining in the third quarter, prompting her to head to the bench.

Shortly thereafter, STAC's Julia Winnik drained a three-pointer that opened a 61-51 lead for the Spartans.

Hood, who picked up her fourth foul with 5:37 remaining in the fourth quarter, finished with a team-leading 12 points in Wednesday's defeat. Vukosavljevic, the reigning ECC Player of the Week, and Frierson had nine apiece.

Despite the loss, the Bears remained in fourth place in the ECC, now with a 9-6 conference mark. That's only one game in the loss column ahead of fifth-place Daemen (7-7).

The No. 4 seed hosts the No. 5 seed in the opening round before the ECC tourney shifts to Roberts Wesleyan in Rochester for the semifinals and finals.

NYIT and Daemen meet the final day of the regular season. And if Daemen were to win that game and the teams finish tied in the standings, the Wildcats would get the tiebreaker over NYIT because they would have swept the season series.

NYIT lost to Daemen in Amherst, 79-76, on Jan. 14.

NYIT's remaining games are all at home — against District of Columbia (2-13), Roberts Wesleyan (11-3) and Daemen.

Daemen hosts Molloy (3-11) and Queens (6-8) this weekend, then completes its regular season at LIU Post (13-1) and NYIT.

"It's time to make a statement," Parham said.