ORONO — When coach Ted Woodward walked into the locker room after Sunday afternoon’s game at Memorial Gymnasium, his University of Maine players wanted to know one thing:
“Can we play every game in here?” they wondered aloud.
The Black Bears appeared quite comfortable in their regular practice facility, shooting 54 percent from the field en route to a convincing 74-54 men’s basketball victory over Norfolk State.
“It’s fun,” Woodward said of the experience in the gym known as “The Pit.” “It’s fun for fans, it’s fun for our guys. This is home.”
It is the Black Bears’ only scheduled game in Memorial Gym this season. An estimated 700 fans turned out Sunday, although the announced attendance was 1,181.
The Bears (4-5) demonstrated there really is no place like “home” with a well-rounded performance as they posted their second straight win. UMaine shot 63 percent from the floor in the first half while building a 14-point lead and setting a positive tone for the contest.
“As a player, of course,” junior guard Gerald McLemore said when asked whether the Bears would prefer playing in Memorial Gym rather than across the parking lot at Alfond Arena.
“But coach will always tell us that it doesn’t matter where we play,” he continued, “it’s all about the 13 guys (on the team) and five guys on the court. We practice here every day, so it ind of feels good to get your shot going.”
McLemore was 4-for-11, but hit four 3-pointers, including two during a 20-7 second-half surge that sent UMaine on its way.
Senior guard Terrance Mitchell was the player who really settled in nicely, going 7-for-9 from the floor, including 5-for-7 on 3-point shots. He finished with a game-high 22 points and only 14 minutes of action.
“Basically, I know my role and that’s just like come in and have a lot of energy, so that’s what I did,” Mitchell said. “I hit one (shot) and as soon as I saw it go through the net, I felt like everything I shot was good — except for the free throws (3-for-6).”
UMaine, which raced to a 7-0 lead and never trailed — although the Spartans tied it twice — seized the momentum with a 10-0 flurry starting at the 9:34 mark of the first half.
Freshman Alasdair Fraser opened the run with a reverse layup, then Mitchell scored on a baseline drive, both off passes from Andrew Rogers. After the teams traded turnovers, Troy Barnies of Auburn made a free throw and missed the second, but Mike Allison jammed home the rebound.
McLemore’s 3-pointer off a Norfolk State turnover gave UMaine a 29-17 lead with 8:36 to play.
The hosts then answered a Marcos Tamares 14-footer with back-to-back baseline hoops from Barnies to complete a 14-2 run.
“I thought our intensity was good throughout the whole game,” Woodward said. “We had a lot of guys going into and out of our lineup and every single one of them came in there ready to play.”
While its offense was productive, UMaine helped generate better scoring opportunities with strong defense. The Bears played quite a bit of 2-3 zone and also mixed in some 1-2-2 full-court pressure.
“We thought we played pretty well against UMass defensively,” Barnies said, “(so) we kind of wanted to have the same attitude and energy to start off the game against Norfolk.”
The Bears, who also mixed in man-to-man defense, effectively bottled up 6-foot-10 Norfolk center Kyle O’Quinn, who finished with 11 points (on 4-for-12 shooting) and 11 rebounds.
UMaine led by as many as 27 points in the second half.
Barnies and Raheem Singleton (five assists) each posted nine points and five rebounds in another balanced offensive effort by the Bears. Rogers contributed five assists and two steals for the Bears, who went 10-for-22 (46 percent) from 3-point range and outrebounded the Spartans 34-28.
Pendarvis Williams provided 11 points, six assists and three steals for the Spartans. Rob Hampton added 10 points, including 8-for-8 free-throw shooting.
UMaine has final semester exams this week, but returns to action Sunday with a 2 p.m. home game against Colgate at Alfond Arena.
Prior to Sunday’s contest, UMaine recognized Gov. John Baldacci at center court for his support in helping procure $7 million in state support for the Memorial Gym renovation project.