With interim head coach Jai Steadman taking the reins from former head coach Richard Barron earlier this month, the Black Bears welcomed the University of Albany Great Danes to the Memorial Gym for a midweek clash of conference foes. Just a few weeks prior, the Black Bears traveled to Albany for their first meeting of the year, which Maine won 73-63 behind a fantastic all-around performance from second-year guard Vukasin Masic. The game marked Steadman’s second game at the helm of the group, with the former University of Texas Rio Grande head coach winning his first game in charge last week against the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
Both sides traded blows early to the tune of an 8-7 UMaine lead about five minutes into the contest. Throughout the match, UMaine second-year forward Peter Filipovity used his 6’7” frame to create space down low and halting numerous Albany fastbreaks and drives to the basket. While UMaine had the lead early, Albany didn’t roll over and quickly fought back to take a three-point lead with ten to go in the first half.
Filipovity was in the middle of things, spinning through Albany defenders to lay-in an acrobatic finish after another Maine bucket to reclaim the lead at 16-15. Maine’s defense stepped up a notch from this point on, with fourth-year forward and captain Stephane Ingo switching on most defensive possessions, locking up any Albany players that attempted to meander their way through the paint. Almost instantaneously, Ingo’s defense had allowed his side to jump out to a much more comfortable 35-19 lead.
In addition to Ingo’s defense, UMaine third-year guard Maks Klanjscek’s shooting ability was on display, hitting a three pointer to extend Maine’s lead to 11, before Peter Filipovity found second-year guard, Adefolarin “Fofo” Adetogun gliding through the air, connecting with his teammate to throw down a vicious alley-oop slam, igniting the home crowd. Albany ended Maine’s run there, eventually closing the gap to only seven, with the score reading 37-30 at halftime.
Heading into the second half, the goal was clear for coach Steadman’s group: hold the lead. Third-year guard Ata Turgut gave his best effort to fulfill his coach’s wishes, hitting a three just after the break to push Maine’s lead to 42-34. The Great Danes seemed to finally hit their stride though, as Albany fourth-year guard Jamel Horton had his way with Maine’s defense, getting to the basket and finishing strong in traffic on two consecutive possessions.
Albany’s night started to look a whole lot brighter following Horton’s buckets, as his team clawed their way back to tie the game up at 48, thanks in-part to great defense from Albany. While both sides traded baskets, a big block on Masic under the basket turned into a transition three for the Great Danes, and an easy two the next possession found Maine down 55-52, and momentum going completely against them.
Continuing an already explosive first-year campaign, guard Sam Ihekwoaba gave it his all to keep Maine in the game, hitting tough shot after tough shot, getting Maine back ahead by two. Defensive confusion, and the inability to corral a defensive rebound led to a three from Albany’s fifth-year guard Matt Cerruti.
The very next play, Albany’s third-year guard Trey Hutchinson was fouled on a three, and nailed each of his free throws to put the Danes ahead by four with just under five to go. Cerruti stuck another dagger into the hearts of the Black Bears with an and-one three pointer to extend Albany’s lead to eight, almost sealing the game.
Though third-year guard Ja-Shonte Wright-McLeish hit an and-one three of his own, he missed the free throw, and on Maine’s last chance possession, Ingo’s tip at the rim bounced out, forced a Maine foul, and inevitably led to a 72-68 UMaine loss.
“We got a great group of guys that work hard, practice hard, so really no complaints,” coach Steadman said following the loss. “I wanna win, I wanna win so bad for this university, for this state, for the alumni, the students, for everybody that works here, and I put a lot of pressure on myself but I wanna win and I’m gonna win.”
The Black Bears last home game of the regular season see’s them welcome the University of Vermont Catamounts to the Cross Insurance Center on Tuesday, March 1.