University of Maine sophomore guard Justin Edwards and sophomore forward Zarko Valijarevic each hit two 3s a piece in the last 4 minutes of the game before Edwards tipped the ball in with 0.7 seconds remaining, giving UMaine the 66-64 win over the University of Hartford on Wednesday night at Alfond arena.
Hartford — 14-11 overall,7-5 in the conference — came into the contest off a three-game winning streak, which included an impressive victory at first place Stony Brook University. The Hawks won six straight against the Black Bears. Sophomore forward Mark Nwakamma was named America East player of the week for the third time, boasting a league best 18.7 points per game in America East play.
The Black Bears didn’t care.
After Edwards sank two 3s with just under 4 minutes remaining, Valijarevic got the hot hand, hitting two 3s, only 43 seconds apart, giving UMaine a 63-58 lead with 57 seconds to play.
“Like I told them in a timeout, the only thing you can control out here is your effort and your execution, and I thought from that point on we really did a good job of that in the second half,” said UMaine head coach Ted Woodward.
Hartford made a late push extending the game with fouls. Sophomore Guard Wes Cole — who finished the game with eight points and two assists — drained a 3 in the right corner before he swished another one 18 seconds later to tie the game at 64 with 30 seconds remaining.
The Black Bears gave the ball to Edwards who drove hard into the lane, but was stopped by a Hartford defender.
“I was trying to drive, but he stopped me,” Edwards said. “I tried to just fake him and go into him and get the foul, but the refs didn’t call it.”
After Edwards’ shot missed, UMaine senior center Mike Allison had a chance to tip-in, but the ball bounced to the other side of the rim where Edwards executed the one-handed tip-in for the dramatic win. Hartford would be unable to get a good shot off with 0.7 seconds left allowing the Black Bears to improve to 10-15 overall, 5-7 in America East play and 8-3 at home.
“It’s certainly a nice sign, seeing them grow up a little bit like that tonight,” said Woodward who has watched his team be on the wrong end of buzzer-beaters, twice this season in conference play.
Edwards led the Black Bears attack with 18 points, eight rebounds and five assists. Valijarevic chipped in 17 points on 6-12 shooting, and junior forward Alasdair Fraser added nine points, three rebounds and three assists.
UMaine trailed 34-30 at halftime after Hartford hit five 3 pointers and forced nine UMaine turnovers. The Black Bears responded with much better defense in the second half, not allowing the Hawks to get a field goal until just under 12 minutes in the second half. Nwakamma finished with a team-high 17 points and eight rebounds on 7-15 shooting, but the Black Bears did a good job holding him in check and bumping him off of the block as much as possible. Sophomore guard Yolonzo Moore, who averages 10 points per game and 3.9 rebounds per game, added 14 points.
“We want to make guys work hard for the points that they get,” Woodward said. “I thought all of the guys did a good job on him [Nwakamma] and made him work extremely hard.”
The Black Bears also received a welcomed spark from athletic freshman guard Dimitry Coronel. Coronel filled in for senior forward Jon McAllian, who was out with a concussion, and Jon Mesghna, who was out with the flu. Coronel hasn’t played many minutes this year, but the freshman took advantage of his time, aggressively driving to the rim and earning seven points in 17 minutes of play.
“That was huge,” Woodward said of the freshman’s play. “There were a couple guys down, but there are a lot of guys we have confidence in.”
UMaine played its best basketball in the beginning of the second half, forcing Hartford turnovers — 13 for the game — and using a methodic 9-1 run in the first 6 minutes to gain control of the game.
The Black Bears shot 51.1 percent from the field and held Hartford to 45.7 percent. UMaine held its biggest advantage on the glass, winning the rebound battle 32-21. The hot shooting down the stretch propelled the Black Bears to victory.
“They hit four 3s in the last 6 minutes of the game,” Hartford head coach John Gallagher said. “That’s 12 points in a two-point game.”
The development of Valijarevic has been a welcomed success for UMaine. The 6-foot-4-inch sophomore guard from Serbia has shown he has ice water in his veins, making clutch after clutch shot down the stretch and showing no nerves at the free-throw line.
Valijarevic continued his strong play Saturday, scoring a career-high 25 points as the Black Bears defeated Binghamton 64-60, earning their third straight win. Fraser added 10 points and 11 rebounds, while Edwards chipped in 12 points, seven rebounds and three assists in the win. The Black Bears will look to continue their strong play on Feb. 20 at the University of Vermont before returning home on Feb. 24 to play host to Stony Brook University.