On Wednesday, Feb. 12, the University of Maine men’s basketball team traveled to the University of Massachusetts Lowell to play the Riverhawks in a conference showdown. The game became a defensive battle, and Maine fell just short in a 71-63 loss.
Maine started out slowly as Lowell took an early 10-4 lead. The Black Bears made multiple layups to decrease the deficit, then third-year forward Nedeljko Prijovic made a clutch steal and a monster dunk to bring energy to the Maine sideline. After causing two turnovers in a row, first-year guard Okuh Precious made a jumper and another fastbreak score to take Maine’s first lead of the game at 15-14. Fourth-year forward Andrew Flemming continued to help move the ball around the entirety of the offense and played stellar defense, forcing UMass into a five-minute-long scoring drought.
After Maine’s first-year Ingo Stephane hit a three, the Black Bears took the largest lead of the night at 22-14. Lowell changed up their game plan in response and started dominating the paint, forcing a 14-6 run tying the game up at 28 all. Flemming continued to lead the Maine offense, scoring another pair of layups as the teams continued to trade buckets. The first half would end with Maine down 34-32. Flemming led scorers in the first half with 10 points.
To start the second half, Maine’s first-year guard Ja’shonte Wright-McLeish found his way to the foul line, making both attempts and tying up the game. Flemming drove to the basket where he missed the layup, collected the rebound then laid it in for the basket, giving Maine the lead again at 36-34. Lowell responded by hitting three triples in a row, forcing an 11-4 streak and bringing the score to 45-40. Ingo took the games into his own hands by hitting a three, grabbing a steal on the other end then following it up with a layup, tying the game at 45 all. The Black Bears’ fourth-year guard Sergio El Darwich interrupted his quiet night with a jumper followed up by a pair of three-pointers. El Darwich continued to drive to the basket as he finished back-to-back tough layups, scoring 11 straight points for Maine.
Although Maine was scoring efficiently, Lowell continued to trade baskets, keeping the game at a 57-56 Maine deficit with four minutes left in the game. UMass started eating up Maine’s passing game on defense and making jumpers, causing a 12-4 run. This would give the Riverhawks a 69-60 lead with 30 seconds left in the game. Maine would not have enough time to form a comeback, losing 71-63.
The Black Bears ended the game with two players scoring double digits, with 13 points from El Darwich and 12 points from Flemming. Flemming also managed to haul in nine rebounds to lead the team. The missing piece of Maine’s game was the lack of assistance, as they only had a total of nine team assists on the outing. Maine also struggled from the three-point line, completing a mere 21% of the triples they took. With this loss, Maine remains the No. 7 seed in the America East conference, while Lowell moved into the No. 5 seed, passing the University of New Hampshire. With March approaching quickly, Maine has five games left in the regular season before conference play begins. The Black Bears host the University at Albany on Sunday, Feb. 16. Maine then travels to play Stony Brook University in New York on Saturday, Feb. 22.