ORONO, Maine — Throughout the second half Friday night, Central Connecticut State threatened to take the lead.
The University of Maine refused to let it happen.
Amanda Tewksbury calmly hit a 3-pointer with 5.4 seconds remaining, sending the crowd into a frenzy as the Black Bears eked out a season-opening 61-58 women’s basketball victory at Alfond Arena.
“I think it speaks to how much the players have grown and matured since last season and also the young players that we’ve brought in and how quickly they’ve been able to complement our returning players,” said UMaine coach Cindy Blodgett.
“What this is, is a nice stepping stone and what it’s going to allow our team to start doing is expecting to win games.”
The clutch basket by Tewksbury (game-high 20 points, 9 rebounds), a senior guard, put an exclamation point on a poised performance by the Bears against a seasoned Central Connecticut ballclub that returned its top six players from a team that won 18 games and played in the Women’s NIT.
Freshman Katelyn Vanderhoff (9 points, 5 assists), who was moved to point guard only 10 days ago, helped set up the game-winning basket coming out of a UMaine timeout with 17.9 seconds left.
“It was great that they doubled Vandy and Vandy did a really smart job of just seeing me wide-open on the top of the key,” Tewksbury said. “I just shot the ball. I shot it confidently and God is good. It went in.”
The Blue Devils inbounded quickly, but Shontice Simmons’ running 3-pointer missed as time expired.
UMaine set the tone early with hard-nosed, man-to-man defense. The Bears limited CCSU to 21 percent shooting (6-for-29) in the first half and hounded the Blue Devils into 13 turnovers that led to 13 points.
The result was a 28-17 halftime advantage.
“Maine did a good job defensively,” said CCSU coach Beryl Piper. “They defended us and we struggled offensively running some of our sets.”
The visitors came out with renewed intensity to start the second half. Leanne Crockett (16 points, 11 rebounds) and Kirsten Daamen spearheaded a 19-8 surge, including a Crockett 3-pointer that tied the game 36-36 with 11:53 to play.
The Bears held their ground, shutting out CCSU for the next 3:49 while getting driving baskets from Vanderhoff and Sam Wheeler (12 points, 5 rebounds) to maintain the upper hand.
CCSU later pulled even at 46-all with 5:07 remaining, but UMaine responded with a 6-1 run, including a Tewksbury 3-pointer, to stay on top.
“To get over the hump one time could have made a big difference for us. We just couldn’t do it,” Piper said.
The Bears remained calm in the last 2:10 despite full-court pressure from the Devils. Senior Kristin Baker sandwiched four free throws around a Simmons 3-pointer to maintain a 56-53 edge, but Simmons got CCSU within one on a driving layup with 1:02 left.
“Me and the other guard out there, we knew that we had to get open and just control the ball and stay calm,” Vanderhoff said.
Samantha Baranowski (9 rebounds, 3 blocked shots) made it a three-point edge with a 14-foot jumper (her only basket of the game) with 38.5 seconds left, but CCSU tied it on Gabrielle Oglesby’s bank-in 3-pointer with 25 ticks left on the clock.
UMaine called timeout to set up the game-winning play.
Baker of Bingham was a defensive workhorse for UMaine. She had seven points and five assists.
“You can look at Kristin Baker, who played great defense on [Simmons] the entire game,” Blodgett said. “She only took three shots and she impacted the game from the beginning to the end.”
Simmons added 16 points and seven rebounds for CCSU.
BEAR TRACKS: UMaine announced Friday that freshman guard Rachele Burns of Gorham will miss the rest of the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee. She reinjured the knee during the Blue-White scrimmage in October. Burns is scheduled to undergo surgery Nov. 25. It will be the third surgery on the same knee. The previous repairs came in January 2008 and December 2008. Burns will have four years of eligibility remaining.