CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — One might have expected a wild celebration Saturday afternoon at Conte Forum.
The University of Maine men’s basketball team had registered its most noteworthy victory in nine years, knocking off Atlantic Coast Conference member Boston College 52-51.
Yet, in the moments after a half-court runner by BC’s Reggie Jackson thudded off the backboard at the buzzer, the Black Bears (7-5) were remarkably composed.
Sure, there were high fives, hugs and broad smiles. But the Bears reacted almost as though they had expected to win.
“You’ve got to come in believing you can win any game,” said UMaine sophomore Gerald McLemore. “That’s the mindset of an athlete. We know we’re underdogs.”
The effort provided evidence UMaine’s rebuilding process is taking shape. Nobody appreciated the moment more than Junior Bernal.
“Since I’ve been here, we’ve played a lot of big schools and I’ve never won against them, but winning this one is something I’m going to remember for the rest of my life,” said the Bears’ lone senior.
UMaine, which has played nine of its 12 games on the road, didn’t show up in awe of Boston College (9-4). The Bears have played some tough competition this season. Games against the likes of No. 7 Syracuse and No. 11 Connecticut helped the Bears stay at ease against the Eagles.
“We’ve been working hard in practices, playing top teams, so we’ve been in this type of atmosphere before,” Bernal said. “I knew we could win the game if we could stay together and not break down.”
It was the Bears’ first victory over a major program since it beat Atlantic-10 member Rhode Island in November 2004. However, it was the most significant nonconference win since an 80-71 victory at Providence on Nov. 21, 2000.
That Providence team wound up 21-10 and was ranked No. 10 in the country prior to a first-round NCAA tournament loss.
“Obviously, this is way up there,” Woodward said of the win’s magnitude. “Every win is great, but this season, coming down and having a chance to beat Boston College, an ACC school, that’s a tremendous win.”
UMaine’s victory was built on defense. The Bears buckled down in a 2-3 zone that effectively clogged up the middle and remained active on the perimeter.
Boston College had some success from the outside, making eight of its first 16 3-pointers. Ultimately, the Eagles missed 11 of their last 12.
The hosts were held 23 points under their scoring average and shot only 33 percent from the floor, well below their 46 percent accuracy for the season.
“It wasn’t like we didn’t have opportunities. We had looks,” said BC coach Al Skinner. “I didn’t think we did a good job attacking the zone, settled [for outside shots]. For us to shoot more than half of our shots from the 3-point line means that we didn’t do a good job moving the basketball.”
UMaine contained three of BC’s leading scorers as Corey Raji (14.8 points per game), Jackson (14.0 ppg) and Rakim Sanders (11.2 ppg) combined for only 15 points on 5-for-22 shooting.
“Our zone defense has always been one of our best defenses,” said UMaine junior Sean McNally of Gardiner. “We’ve got a pretty quick and active zone and a lot of teams that can’t really shoot well from the outside really struggle against our zone because we really pack the paint well.”
McNally paced UMaine with 15 points, seven rebounds and three blocked shots. McLemore finished with 14 points on 6-for-10 shooting and added three assists.
Troy Barnies of Auburn contributed six points and seven rebounds, while Malachi Peay posted six points, three assists and four steals. Murphy Burnatowski (5 rebounds), Andrew Rogers, Mike Allison (5 points) and Terrance Mitchell also played key roles.
The Bears outscored the Eagles 36-18 in the paint.
Joe Trapani connected for a game-high 17 points to lead Boston College, which outrebounded UMaine 37-34.
The Eagles, who led 32-29 at halftime, twice led by eight points in the second half. Tyler Roche’s 3-pointer with 5:59 left gave BC a 50-42 advantage.
BC wouldn’t make another field goal the rest of the way. The hosts went 0-for-8 from the field and committed three turnovers down the stretch.
UMaine, meanwhile, made enough plays to pull out the victory.
McLemore initiated the Bears’ rally with a scoop shot from the lane off a feed from Peay. UMaine then cashed in on a turnover when McLemore set up a Bernal layup with 4:41 to play.
Peay got the Bears within two a minute later, making a steal and going the distance for a layup that cut BC’s edge to 50-48 with 3:49 left.
“I thought our guys came and mentally matched the toughness,” Woodward said.
UMaine eventually tied it at the 1:45 mark when Barnies scored from down low off a McLemore dish, but BC countered with one Josh Southern free throw 26 seconds later.
The Bears came right back and pounded the ball inside to McNally, who was fouled and made both foul shots to provide the eventual winning margin with 1:10 remaining.
BC had two quality possessions after that. On the first, Barnies rebounded a Sanders miss from the paint with 43 seconds left.
Then, with time running down, Barnies had a clutch block of Sanders on a baseline drive and grabbed the rebound with 1.2 seconds to play. He missed the free throw, but the Eagles’ desperation shot missed.
“That was a long 1.2 seconds, I’ll say that,” Woodward said. “It [the shot] was headed the right direction, too. I was a little nervous.”
UMaine returns to action tonight with a 7 p.m. home game against Princeton.