Don’t play down to your competition basketball coaches say, but that’s exactly what the Black Bears did when they played host to the University of New Hampshire Wildcats — 6-14 overall, 2-6 in conference — on Wednesday night at the Alfond Arena.
The Black Bears — 8-13, 3-5 — were unable to overcome 10 first half turnovers and a 13-point halftime deficit losing to the Wildcats 57-54.
Bill Herrion’s senior-laden team — winners of two straight after dropping nine in a row — held strong as the Black Bears came charging back in the second half, erasing a 17-point deficit after losing star Justin Edwards in the first half to a sprained ankle.
“Obviously I thought we fought back extremely hard in the second half, played good defense, really cut down on our turnovers,” head coach Ted Woodward said. “But it was an uphill battle for 20 minutes, and we’ve got to play a 40-minute game.”
UMaine came out flat, falling behind 20-9 at the 8-minute mark of the first half after turning the ball over nine times and suffering through a 6-minute scoring drought. Edwards — who is averaging a team-leading 17.6 points, to go with 5.4 rebounds and four assists — only played 12 minutes before the injury, scoring seven points and grabbing four rebounds but turned the ball over four times.
The Wildcats were happy to escape with a win at Alfond Arena after losing their last four meetings to the Black Bears.
“It’s a great win for us,” Herrison said. “We haven’t won up here in a while. We’ve struggled up here, and we have struggled against Maine.”
The Black Bears did not lay down in this one. After giving up a quick four points to start the second half, the Black Bears started to find some life 2 minutes into the second half.
Maine went on an 8-0 run starting with a quick spin move on the block from junior forward Alasdair Fraser — who finished with a game-high 20 points and eight rebounds — before the big man stepped out and hit a 3. On the following defensive possession, senior forward Mike Allison blocked one of his five shots, starting the Black Bears transition offense leading to a sophomore forward Zarko Valjarevic 3-pointer and capping off a 11-0 run to bring UMaine within six with 15 minutes to play. Valjarevic finished with nine points on 3-9 shooting and added four rebounds.
“At halftime we wanted to come out with better energy, and I thought we answered them. We played better defense, and that led to our offense,” Fraser said.
The Black Bears shot 37.5 percent in the second half, compared to 34.6 percent in the first, and held the Wildcats to 27.6 percent in second half.
After the big run, the Black Bears traded baskets and eventually tied the game at 52 with just over 2 minutes to play after Allison finished the third offensive rebound attempt. Allison finished with eight rebounds.
Wildcat senior guard Chandler Rhoads — 18 points of 7-17 shooting and seven rebounds — hit a deep two to put UNH on top 55-52 with a minute to play. UMaine freshman guard Shaun Lawton took the ball to the rim on the following possession, but the wild lay-up was missed. After a defensive stop, UMaine sophomore guard Xavier Pollard — nine points, five rebounds, three assists — got a tough shot to fall in the lane with 9.6 seconds left. UMaine quickly fouled UNH junior forward Patrick Konan on the inbound. Konan would miss the front-end of the one and one, but teammate and senior center Chris Matagrano — 16 points on 5-8 shooting, seven rebounds — grabbed the offensive rebound and sink both free throws.
Valjarevic’s 3-pointer would come up short at the buzzer leaving the Black Bears with a disappointing loss.
“I thought we had some good, solid, open three point looks late in the game. They just didn’t fall,” Woodward said.
The Black Bears out-rebounded UNH 46-39 but turned the ball over 12 times to the Wildcats’ five. UMaine just wasn’t able to overcome the slow start forced by the Wildcats full court run-and-jump defense.
“We came out in the first half flat, and I don’t think we played with a ton of energy and they took advantage of it. Give them credit,” Woodward said.
UMaine lost on Saturday in a heartbreaker at UMBC 68-67 and will travel to Boston University on Tuesday, Feb. 5. The Black Bears return home for action against Albany on Feb. 9.