ORONO, Maine — With 2.9 seconds to play and the game tied, the University of Maine mens’ basketball team needed a big play. So head coach Ted Woodward put his big lineup on the floor and got exactly that.
Freshman forward Mike Allison rebounded his own missed shot off the glass from the left block and put it back in as the buzzer sounded to give the Black Bears a 56-54 victory over Boston University at Alfond Arena.
To say Maine’s pulse-pounding, nerve-wracking, senses-jarring victory was a big one would be a gross understatement. The Bears’ sixth straight win snapped a six-game losing streak against the Terriers, shored up Maine’s place atop the America East standings with a 6-1 mark, and injected even more confidence and momentum into a Maine lineup that has now won nine of its last 10 games.
But don’t tell Woodward it was a “statement win” for the 14-6 Bears.
“I had that question before the game if this was a statement game,” said Woodward. “I don’t know how many times we have to make a statement.
“We’re not trying to make a statement. We’re just trying to win the game ahead of us and learn from the game behind us.”
Well, if they didn’t know it already, the Bears and their fans learned their team has a mix of grizzled veteran players, new faces and true freshmen who find ways to win.
After Maine used a 7-0 run to take a 53-43 lead with five minutes left, the Terriers started scratching back. And, thanks to both tough defensive pressure and poor foul shooting by the Bears, they cut Maine’s lead to one point (53-52) with 42 seconds left.
After BU guard Corey Lowe drove the right block and drew a foul on Maine freshman Murphy Burnatowski that could have been ruled a player-control foul instead, Lowe missed the foul shot, but grabbed the rebound.
Time for Maine to get defensive, and junior forward Sean McNally did by snatching the ball away from Lowe on the right wing and drawing a foul with 16.8 seconds left.
McNally hit the first free throw, but missed the second. On the other end, Jeff Pelage tied it up for BU with four seconds left via a basket from the right block after he initially fumbled the ball down low.
Maine called timeout with 2.9 seconds left and Woodward sent 6-foot-7 McNally, 6-5 guard Junior Bernal, 6-9 Allison, 6-7 Burnatowski, and 6-3 Gerald McLemore out for the last shot.
“They’ve got big, strong basketball players,” said BU coach Patrick Chambers. “That’s a luxury and it’s tough to combat.”
Bernal inbounded the ball from beside the Maine bench on the right side with a high, arcing pass to the basket. Allison tried to tip it into the hoop, but it bounced off the rim and glass back his way. He put it back in just as the buzzer sounded to electrify Maine players, coaches and fans alike.
“There was a lot of arc on that pass so I was kind of waiting there, and as soon as it came, I tried to just do a quick tip-in because they had a guy between me and the basket,” Allison said. “I got the ball back, bobbled it a bit, but put it back in.”
Allison finished with just five points, but his clutch play typified the different-hero, different-night approach for Maine this season.
Burnatowski led the Bears with a career-high 14 points after storming out of the gate with 11 in the first half. He also had five rebounds.
“I tried to shoot when I was open, and sometimes not when I was open,” Burnatowski said with a chuckle. “They just seemed to be falling.”
Bernal enjoyed an exceptional, all-around game with seven points, 10 rebounds, four assists, a steal and a blocked shot.
“I was really into the game; everyone was,” said Bernal, Maine’s lone senior. “I don’t even remember beating them before since I’ve been here.”
For the seventh straight game, Terrance Mitchell came off the bench to score at least 10 points. He finished with 10 points and four assists to lead an effort that allowed Maine to outscore BU 17-0 in bench points.
That effort offset a 17-3 advantage for the 11-10 Terriers in points off turnovers.
Jake O’Brien and John Holland each scored 13 and combined for 17 rebounds to lead the Terriers (5-3 in AE play). Lowe finished with 12 after scoring eight in the first half.
Maine outshot a solid BU perimeter attack 40 to 38.9 percent with 10-for-25 shooting from 3-point range.
“Them making 10 3s, I probably didn’t count on that,” Chambers said. “Burnatowski made four.
“We tried to key on McLemore, and McNally is a big, tough kid who threw his body around tonight, but Burnatowski did things that I try to teach to my kids. He’s an old-school-type player.”
Maine also beat BU at its own game defensively, using a mix of man-to-man and zone to hold the Terriers to 34.5 percent from the floor for the game.
“To hold BU, who in my opinion is one of the most offensively explosive teams in the league to that is tremendous, along with limiting them to just four assists,” said Woodward. “We really just made it