NORWICH – After some less-than-pleasing efforts of late, Binghamton girls basketball coach Kristin Lemon-Hoyt wanted her team to raise things up a notch defensively.
The Patriots did just that Wednesday evening, forcing Norwich into a plethora of early turnovers that helped set the stage for a 53-37 victory in a Southern Tier Athletic Conference semifinal contest.
Monica McManus scored 16 points and Jodi-Marie Ramil added 10 points for Binghamton (16-1), which advanced to its first STAC final since winning its third straight title in 2012. Binghamton will meet Horseheads — a 78-58 semifinal victor over Seton Catholic Central — for the STAC title Friday at Union-Endicott High School.
Norwich (12-4) actually led 5-2 three minutes into play, but the Purple Tornado would be done in quickly by its inability to protect the basketball, the turnovers a combination of those created by Binghamton’s pressure defense as well as self-induced miscues.
Olivia Ramil started a nine-point run with a basket off a feed from the high post by sister Jodi-Marie. Following a pair of turnovers that led to Patriots baskets, McManus capped the surge with a three-pointer from the right wing that put Binghamton ahead 11-4 with 2:15 to go in the first quarter.
Binghamton continued to stretch the lead in the second quarter, with Adrienne Graves scoring five points in a 7-0 run in the opening four minutes of the frame to extend the Patriots’ lead to 25-10. After a Shelby Benjamin basket for Norwich, McManus hit a jumper from the right wing before getting a steal and basket to push Binghamton’s lead to 29-12 with 3:47 remaining in the second quarter.
Norwich managed to trim the deficit to 35-24 late in the third quarter when Benjamin scored off an offensive rebound with 1:30 to go. However, McManus nailed back-to-back three-pointers in the final 30 seconds of the frame, the later of those from about 23 feet out with nine seconds left, to put Binghamton ahead 41-24 and Norwich did not seriously threaten the rest of the way.
“Honestly, it’s been one of the most enjoyable years I’ve had, it’s been a great group of girls all working together. It’s a huge accomplishment (getting back to the STAC final).” said senior point guard Hannah Spencer, a fourth-year varsity player who helped spearhead the defensive effort. “We’ve been working on (defense) a lot in practice…the girls were moving great today.”
Benjamin had 12 points and Makenzie Maynard added 11 for Norwich, which in addition to its early turnover woes were done in largely by its inability to hit open shots from outside, a squad that usually hits about 40 percent from three-point range according to coach Josh Bennett coming up empty from beyond the arc.
“I thought we did a better job of handling their pressure in the third quarter, but we didn’t plan on shooting as poorly as we did,” Bennett said. “I thought we did a good job on the Ramil kids, I don’t think they beat us.”
“But Graves made some athletic plays…she was an animal out there and (McManus) made some big shots.”
Lemon-Hoyt acknowledged McManus’s presence from outside has helped her team’s fortunes immensely, her improved play coming after some tough on-the-job training after Binghamton struggled last season with the Ramil sisters opting to play AAU basketball instead of school ball.
“Last year was obviously a big growing year for us,” Lemon-Hoyt said. “We would have liked everyone around last year, but I think it gave the chance for a girl like Monica to grow and find her identity.
“Having that dimension of her as a good outside shooters that teams have to keep honest, it definitely helps open things up for the Ramils, who teams are usually clamping down on.”