On a day when we honored our veterans, the University of Maine (1-1) hosted Military Appreciation Day at the Cross Insurance Center, squaring off against the University of Purdue in the Tipoff Tournament to start the regular season. The Black Bears looked stronger than the Boilermakers from the start, building up a comfortable lead and getting into the win column for the first time this year, beating the Boilermakers 67-47.
After finishing with a 26-9 record and falling in the first round of the WNIT, the Black Bears brought back the face of their team, fourth-year guard Sigi Koizar, to lead the way. Her first defensive play was a steal on Purdue’s fourth-year forward Bridget Perry, which allowed for redshirt second-year guard Tanesha Sutton to open the scoring with a layup.
“It’s not the start we envisioned, and they were more aggressive than us. Their fundamental play caused us to turn over the ball frequently, and we hope to fix that when we come back to play tomorrow,” Perry said.
Maine would continue their impressive play in the first quarter, as they forced four more steals and took a commanding 25-6 lead. First-year guard Julie Brosseau made her first career three-point attempt, establishing confidence in the early going and getting a charge out of the crowd.
“There wasn’t a better way to start my career at Maine, and I felt the energy of the fans when I hit the shot. I couldn’t believe it, and I’m so excited for what’s to come this season,” Brosseau said.
Another Maine player in her first collegiate game, first-year guard Blanca Millan, turned the tables in the first half as she made two three-pointers and led all scorers with 12 points. Coming all the way from Spain, she came overseas to put on a show by displaying her tremendous athletic ability.
“With all the new players this team has, the freshmen especially have to step up and play their best. I think we can be successful this year, and that will only come when the inexperienced players, including myself, believe that we can win,” Millan said.
The Black Bears went into halftime with a 36-18 advantage, where the second quarter was much more competitive than the first. Other than Millan’s 12 points for Maine, Koizar added eight, while Purdue’s two leading scorers had just four points apiece, in first-year guard Dominique Oden and first-year forward Ae-Rianna Harris.
“I was impressed with the way we started by forcing turnovers and scoring on early opportunities, which opened a big lead that we never gave up. Their bench scored more than the starters, so that just says how our defense could stop their best players,” Maine Head Coach Richard Barron said.
Just when Purdue appeared to be getting back into the game, Maine started draining shots and increased their lead to 23 points. The Black Bears were forcing the Boilermakers to play their game and wouldn’t allow them to find an answer, leading 51-37 after the third quarter.
“They took advantage in the early stages of the game and we weren’t able to fight our way back. Their freshmen put in a great effort, and we should’ve further developed our defensive game plan to counteract with their skillset,” former Maine and current Purdue Head Coach Sharon Versyp said.
The Black Bear freshmen were indeed a problem for Purdue, as Millan finished with 17 points and forward Laia Sole had 14. They didn’t let down in the final quarter of the game, helping their team claim their first victory of the season with the score of 67-47, marking the first time since 2004 that Maine had beat a Big Ten team.
Leading scorers for the Boilermakers were Oden with 11 points and fourth-year guard Ashley Morrissette with 10. Maine’s Koizar finished with 17 points, seven rebounds and four assists, which included her 400th career rebound. Sutton also added 12 points for the Black Bears.
The tournament continues into Saturday.
Women’s Basketball Smothered By Mississippi State
In the final game of the Tipoff Tournament during opening weekend, Maine played No. 10 Mississippi State (2-0). An impressive Bulldog team completely overmatched the Black Bears, who weren’t able to score the same amount of points compared to their largest deficit of the game of 44 points in their 87-43 loss.
The Black Bears had a complete opposite start of what they had against Purdue, as they were getting dominated on the defensive end and frequently turned the ball over on offense, facing an early 15-0 deficit. Third-year guard Victoria Vivians was shredding them, as she was 3-for-3 from the field, along with two free throws to total nine points in the first five minutes of the game.
“I felt good when I got the ball, and everything was going in for me. My teammates kept feeding me and they definitely make me confident that I can take the open shots,” Vivians said.
Maine’s first points came at 5:23 of the first quarter when Sutton drove in for a layup. First-year guard Naira Caceres struggled offensively in the early stages, committing four turnovers, lacking a shot attempt.
“I wasn’t on my game, and it didn’t help that our chemistry was out of sync. Things weren’t flowing the way we needed them to be, and the Bulldogs went on top by a lot, which made it hard for us to climb our way back into it,” Caceres said.
Mississippi State only saw their lead drop down to nine points, as Maine was able to close it to 21-12 after the first frame. Vivians led the Bulldogs with 11 points and Koizar led the Black Bears with five.
There were a few players to get on the board for Maine in the second quarter despite still facing an 18-point deficit. Sole and first-year forward Anita Kelava both made two baskets for a total of four points apiece, while Sutton and Koizar faced foul trouble with three personal fouls each. Maine also didn’t help themselves by turning over the ball 18 times.
“We had trouble with transition down the floor, making some unforced mistakes right after we crossed midcourt. They took advantage of our turnovers that gave them breakaway opportunities,” Sole said.
Vivians continued to put on a show, as she hit a three-pointer when time expired in the first half. She had 26 points, was 9-of-16 from the field, collected two rebounds, one assist and two steals. She was a big reason why the score was 46-23 at the midway point and it turned out to be too big of a deficit for Maine to overcome.
“We couldn’t stop Vivians. She was all over the court and took the appropriate shots whenever she had a chance. We have to be more aware of their positioning and definitely have to be better with our ball security,” Barron said.
Through the first five minutes of the third quarter, the only points scored by Maine came from Sole, who made two layups. Third-year guard Morgan William was dependable on getting the ball to her teammates for a good shot attempt, as she led the Bulldogs with nine assists and also added five steals.
Maine couldn’t find any offensive rhythm, crept over 20 turnovers and had three players with at least three fouls in Sutton, Koizar and Millan. The Mississippi State lead kept increasing, as they went ahead 63-30 after three quarters.
The Bulldogs didn’t let down at all in the last frame, as they continued to build on their already huge lead, with the largest being 44 points at the conclusion of the contest in their 87-43 victory. Vivians didn’t add to her total in the second half, leading all scorers with 26 points. Maine didn’t have any scorers in double digits, as Caceres and Sole led the team with eight points each.
“Our defensive play stopped any push their offense could give us and that big lead we made early in the first half really put it away. Victoria was unbelievable in that half and is the biggest reason why we came out of this one with a big win,” Mississippi State Head Coach Vic Schaefer said.
Maine returns to action on Tuesday, Nov. 15 on the road at 6 p.m. against Harvard University. Mississippi State University plays next on Wednesday, Nov. 16 at home against Tulane University.