ORONO — Boston University was the coaches’ preseason favorite to win the America East Conference men’s basketball title.
When the Terriers visited Alfond Arena on Sunday afternoon, they found out the University of Maine is going to be a considerable obstacle in their quest to make that happen.
The Black Bears limited BU to 18 first-half points and held them to 32 percent shooting while earning a 65-52 victory in the teams’ mutual league opener.
“We know BU’s a great team, preseason first team in our conference, so it’s definitely a big statement game,” said junior guard Gerald McLemore, who led UMaine with 16 points. “It was very important to get the first win, to start out on a positive note.”
Coach Ted Woodward’s Black Bears (7-6) rediscovered consistent intensity on the defensive end that had been lacking in Friday night’s home loss to a good Columbia ballclub.
UMaine utilized a 2-3 zone defense much of the way while bottling up the middle and keeping the Terriers (5-10) off the boards most of the game.
“I’m very pleased that guys stepped up and did the things we were capable of doing defensively,” Woodward said.
“I thought we played with a sense of urgency the majority of possessions throughout the game.”
UMaine played well early, holding the Terriers to 25 percent shooting in the first half while building a 17-point advantage. The Bears held foul-plagued, all-conference forward John Holland to eight points.
BU also had some difficulty getting open shots close to the basket, other than a handful of transition opportunities.
However, the Terriers made a game of it in the second half. The visitors ratcheted up the intensity with 3/4-court pressure and an active 2-3 zone.
Darryl Partin (20 points) opened the second half by scoring eight straight points, including back-to-back 3-pointers, to ignite an 11-0 spurt that sliced the Bears’ lead to 31-28 with less than four minutes gone in the period.
UMaine stayed on top when Alasdair Fraser scored a layup off a press-breaking pass from McLemore, who added a layup of his own.
The Bears didn’t establish any breathing room until Troy Barnies led the charge during a critical 11-2 run.
“I was very happy that our guys stepped up and made plays and answered that (BU run),” Woodward said.
“It’s 40 minutes and nothing’s ever comfortable for anybody, that’s just how it is,” he said of league games.
McLemore got things going, answering a 3-pointer by Holland with one of his own with 9:13 remaining. Barnies followed with a free throw, before BU’s Patrick Hazel threw down a dunk on the break.
Barnies responded, splitting two defenders for a basket from the paint, scoring from underneath off a Sean McNally feed that triggered a three-point play, and hitting an eight-foot turnaround shot from the lane to give UMaine a 48-38 advantage with 6:08 left.
“I feel this year is a big difference from the past years because of the fact that my confidence is pretty high,” said Barnies, who scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half and contributed nine rebounds, three assists and three steals. “I feel a hundred percent comfortable on the court with my teammates.”
The Terriers never got closer than seven points after the surge.
“(It was a) good, old America East battle,” said Boston University coach Patrick Chambers.
“In my mind, that’s probably the team to beat. They’re a good team,” he added.
Senior guard Terrance Mitchell (15 points) scored nine in the second half for the Bears, who received seven points and five rebounds from Murphy Burnatowski and six points and seven rebounds from Fraser.
UMaine shot 42 percent from the floor (22-for-52), grabbed a 39-29 rebounding edge and made 15 of 17 free throws in a rough-and-tumble contest.
The Bears outscored BU 26-12 in the paint and tallied 15 points off 18 BU turnovers.
BU was without 6-foot-8 forward Jake O’Brien (11.6 points, 5.7 rebounds per game), who injured his ankle in Friday night’s loss at Massachusetts, and forward Dom Morris (5.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg) with an undisclosed injury. The Terriers scored only eight points as a result of 16 UMaine turnovers.
UMaine was again without the services of sophomore reserve guard Jon McAllian of Bangor, who is recovering after taking a blow to the face during a practice last week.
The Bears manufactured a 29-12 lead with 3:27 to play in the first half behind a 14-2 burst that included three hoops (one a 3-pointer) by McLemore. UMaine held a 31-18 edge at intermission.