KENNESAW, Ga. — The University of Maine men started the season on a winning note, downing Northern Illinois University 77-64 in a first round game at the 100 Club Classic tournament at the Kennesaw State University Convocation Center Friday afternoon.
Freshman guard Gerald McLemore led the way for the Black Bears with a game-high 24 points to go with three steals and two assists.
“This is a tremendous victory for our program,” said UM head coach Ted Woodward. “This is only one game, but for what we asked of our guys tonight, to execute the way they did against a very good MAC [Mid-American Conference] team, obviously I’m pleased.
“We just looked like a team with better leadership.”
In all, Maine got the bulk of its offensive firepower from its backcourt, which was a weakness last season. In addition to McLemore, junior Mark Socoby of Houlton scored 16 points and former Maine Central Institute Postgrad star Junior Bernal added 12. Kaimondre Owes and Malachi Peay combined for 10 more points in 33 combined minutes.
Bernal led the team with seven rebounds and five assists. Socoby also contributed four assists and three steals.
Freshman center-forward Svetoslav Chetinov came off the bench to contribute nine point and seven rebounds in 24 minutes after starting forwards Sean McNally of Gardiner and Troy Barnies of Auburn were each called for a couple of fouls early on.
The Black Bears were outrebounded 33-32 and committed 19 turnovers, but their defense made up for those stats by helping create 19 NIU turnovers and holding the Huskies to 38.3 percent field goal shooting for the game. Huskies guard Darion Anderson, the MAC freshman of the year (2007-08), was held to nine points.
“We just mixed it up defensively with man and zone. We didn’t do anything exotic like a box-and-one,” Woodward said. “We’re just trying to keep things relatively simple both offensively and defensively.”
Maine’s simplistic approach paid off as the Bears scored 19 points off turnovers and 10 off the fast break. They also outscored NIU 19-18 in bench points.
The key stat was field goal percentage, in which Maine shot 52.2 for the game. The Bears shot 62.5 percent in the second half while holding the Huskies to 27.3.
Maine led 27-22 at the half.
“The game was a two-point game for most of the first half,” Woodward said. “We only opened practice three weeks ago, so for us to be executing well and picking up on things this early, especially with a whole group of guys, that’s encouraging.”
The Huskies never led by more than two points, but Maien led by as many as 16.
Guard Mike Dinunno led NIU with 23 points and center Sean Kowal kicked in 12 to go with a team-leading five rebounds. Jeremy Landers came off the bench to dish out a game-high six assists.
The Bears will play either host Kennesaw State or Western Illinois at 5 or 8 p.m. for the tourney title today.