Sophomore center Rafael Maia scored a game high 21 points and grabbed eight rebounds to narrowly lead the Brown University Bears over the University of Maine, 70-68, in the men’s basketball home opener at Alfond Arena Saturday night.
Brown used two free throws in the final 15 seconds to hold off a late surge by the Black Bears. Junior guard Sean McGonagill — 16.0 points per game, six rebounds per game — hit one of two free throws with 15 seconds left to put Brown on top, 69-66. UMaine Junior forward Aldasdair Fraser — 11.5 rpg — tipped in a miss, by sophomore guard Justin Edwards on the next possession with 4.9 seconds remaining.
Brown Senior guard Matt Sullivan knocked down one of two free throws on the other end for Brown, leaving the Black Bears down by two points with 4.4 seconds left. Sophomore guard Xavier Pollard brought the ball up the court and attempted an off-balance jump shot from the top of the key, but it fell short, leaving the Black Bears on the wrong end of a barn-burner.
The win improves Brown to 2-1, and the Black Bears fall to 0-3 on the season, after swallowing two tough losses in their last two games by a combined five points.
Edwards would finish as the lead scorer for the Black Bears, scoring 16 points, grabbing six rebounds and adding five assists.
“Its just one of those games where that extra possession or two turn out to be critical in the course of the game,” said UMaine head coach Ted Woodward.
The game was always close: Brown opened up its biggest lead with a 15-6 run after McGonagill hit a three to close out the first half to put Brown on top 38-31.
McGonagill finished with 16 points, five rebounds and shot 7-9 from the free-throw line. Brown would never lead by more than four points after the 18-minute mark in the second half — there were nine ties after intermission.
“Anytime you can win on the road, it’s a good win,” said Brown head coach Mike Martin. “We executed pretty well down the stretch.”
Each time the Black Bears made a run, Brown had an answer to stop them. Maia — who spent a year playing at Maine Central Institute in Pittsfield, Maine — was the offensive catalyst, using a series of head fakes underneath the basket to get the Black Bears’ large frontcourt off their feet. Maia grabbed six offensive rebounds and shot 9-14 from the field.
“Even if I had my initial shot blocked, I just stuck with it. If you have your shot blocked once or twice, you have to just keep playing,” Maia said.
The Black Bears countered Brown’s balanced attack by utilizing their bench for some big minutes. Sophomore forward Zarko Valjarevic hit a 3 the moment he stepped onto the court and finished with seven points in a 14-minute span. Freshman forward Till Gloger provided a spark, scoring 10 points in 22 minutes on 5-10 shooting.
Brown held their biggest advantage at the free-throw line, shooting 19-27 from the charity stripe as opposed to the Black Bears 8-13
“They got to the line twice as much as we did, and that’s the biggest key,” Woodward said. “That’s something we really strive to do, and that’s the lowest we’ve taken all year.”
Despite the free-throw numbers, the Black Bears attacked the paint with their ball handlers to draw Brown defenders before dumping it to the big men for easy buckets. The Blacks Bears shot 47.5 percent from the field and held Brown to 40.4 percent.
The front-court tandem of Fraser and senior center Mike Allison combined for 17 points and 17 rebounds — Allison added three blocks.
The highlight for the Blacks Bears came during the last 5 minutes in the first half. Allison swatted a Brown shot to the top of the key, starting the Black Bear fast break. Pollard gave the ball to Edwards who finished the break with a monster one-handed jam, providing life to a loud, Black Bear crowd.
In the second half, the teams traded baskets until it was 66-62 Brown with a 1:14 left. A loose ball led to a large scramble at the Black Bear free throw line. It didn’t seem any team had clear possession, but a timeout was granted to Brown, putting the Black Bears in a tough hole.
UMaine kept fighting though, using its success to penetrate the Browns defense, allowing Edwards to pick up two assists on shovel passes in the last 2 minutes. The Black Bears played till the bitter end but came up one possession short.
“It was a hard fought game,” Woodward said. “We just got to find a way to get over the hump.”
Pollard finished with eight points and five assists and junior forward Jon Mesghna added eight points and five rebounds on 3-6 shooting. Senior guard Matt Sullivan added 12 points for Brown.
The Black Bears will resume action again Nov. 21 at Seton Hall University.