BANGOR — They trailed by 16 points in the third quarter and still by 14 early in the fourth Sunday.

Then their best player fouled out with 5:45 left in regulation.

To put it another away, the University of Maine women’s basketball players had no business catching up to Albany, the six-time defending champion.

But the Black Bears did, then beat Albany 74-69 in overtime before a boisterous crowd of 3,140 at the Cross Insurance Center.

Tanesha Sutton finished with 27 points and Julie Brosseau hit two 3-pointers in overtime for Maine.

The Black Bears (20-9 overall) finished atop the America East standings with a 13-3 record and will be the top seed in the America East tournament. The quarterfinals and semifinals will be held Saturday and Sunday at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland.

Maine will play at noon Saturday against the winner of Wednesday’s play-in game between No. 8 Maryland-Baltimore County and No. 9 UMass-Lowell. Second-seeded Albany (23-6, 12-4) will play No. 7 Vermont.

As the top seed in the tournament, Maine had first choice on when it would play its quarterfinal game. Interim head coach Amy Vachon said her team will play at noon.

If Maine gets through Portland unbeaten, it would host the championship game March 9. The Black Bears have not hosted a conference title game in 20 years, when a sophomore point guard named Vachon was directing Maine. Now she’s the coach.

“This is such a special group,” Vachon said. “I don’t think they ever thought they were out of this game.”

Albany has hosted the championship game the past six years – including victories over Maine in the past two seasons. Now the Black Bears can bring the game to Bangor.

“We still have to keep winning to get to the championship game,” said Sutton, a 5-foot-10 junior guard whose 27 points was a career high. It was needed, especially after Blanca Millan fouled out. Millan averages 17.9 points and usually guards the opponents’ best player.

“Blanca’s our best player,” Sutton said. “It was a dark moment but we had to keep pushing.”

While others stepped up, point guard Dor Saar kept Maine focused. She recorded 11 points and nine assists.

With Millan out, 5-8 Parise Rossignol had to cover Albany’s 5-11 guard Jessica Fequiere, who scored 25 points, but only two in the fourth quarter and none in overtime.

“She didn’t let me touch the ball,” Fequiere said of Rossignol’s defense.

Millan left with Maine down 64-54. Albany went cold, failing on its next six possessions. It was the opening the Black Bears needed.

“We just had to make stops,” Vachon said. “We felt like we could make a run the whole game.”

Sutton drove for a basket. Then Brosseau, who missed her first seven shots, hit a jumper.

“My teammates kept telling to keep shooting and forget the past,” Brosseau said.

Maine found Sutton open for two layups, closing the score to 64-62 with 2:14 left.

Fequiere missed a jump shot. The ball bounced away. Albany looked to get it but Rossignol dove for the loose ball and grabbed possession.

“That was huge,” Vachon said. “She did a lot of good things.”

Rossignol, a junior from Van Buren, wasn’t done. She swished a 3-pointer for Maine’s first lead, 65-64, as the crowd became deafening with 1:22 left.

Albany got the lead back with two free throws. Saar tied it with one free throw with 39 seconds left.

The Great Danes worked down the clock, got the ball inside, but were called for traveling with 11 seconds left.

Maine went to Brosseau, whose 3-point try at the buzzer went in and out of the rim.

In overtime, an Albany free throw made it 67-66, but Saar hit a pair of foul shots for a 68-67 lead. Then, with 2:33 left, Maine worked the ball around, with Sutton finding Brosseau open behind the arc. She drained the 3-pointer to make it 71-67.

In the closing 1:30, Maine made two key stops on Fequiere. She was driving to the basket when Brosseau reached in and stole the ball.

Maine missed a shot and Albany looked to Fequiere again. She drove, but Sutton was in the lane and took the charging foul.

Brosseau’s 3-pointer with 11 seconds left sealed it.

“Heartbreaker,” Albany Coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee said. “Maine hit some big shots and the crowd was spectacular, really a sixth man for them.”

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: @KevinThomasPPH

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