ORONO — Coming off Wednesday night’s eye-opening victory at Vermont, the University of Maine might have been ripe for a letdown Saturday night.
The Black Bears weren’t about to let that happen.
UMaine played well early and built a 19-point lead on its way to a 70-59 America East men’s basketball victory over Stony Brook.
An enthusiastic Alfond Arena crowd of 1,948 turned out to watch coach Ted Woodward’s Black Bears (13-7, 6-1 AE) extend their winning streak to five games and retain sole possession of first place in the conference standings.
“Absolutely not,” responded senior Troy Barnies of Auburn when asked whether the Bears had any concerns about falling victim to the potential “trap” game. “We’re still eyes straight ahead, looking forward to the next game, every single time.”
Except for a stretch late in the first half, UMaine allowed its man-to-man defense to set the tone. The Bears limited Stony Brook (7-12, 2-5 AE) to 37 percent shooting overall and held their own in the rebounding (39-37 SBU), despite giving up 15 offensive boards that led to 16 second-chance points.
UMaine again received balanced offensive contributions and shot 46 percent from the floor, including 55 percent in the second half.
“I thought the whole flow of the game was up and down a little bit,” Woodward said. “It was a bizarre flow to the game.”
Barnies paced the Bears with 17 points, including a 7-for-10 performance from the foul line. However, UMaine shot only 58 percent (19-for-33) from the foul line in the contest.
Junior Gerald McLemore hit three 3-pointers on his way to 15 points, senior Terrance Mitchell contributed 13 points and seven rebounds, and junior point guard Raheem Singleton registered 12 points, seven assists and three steals.
“We have a good free-throw shooting team. Unfortunately we missed some tonight, but it happens,” Woodward said.
Sophomore Leonard Hayes, who had scored 10 points all season, poured in a game-best 22 points to pace Stony Brook. He went 4-for-6 from the 3-point arc.
Bryan Dougher added 10 points for the Seawolves, who shot 42 percent from 3-point range (8-for-19), but struggled to 36 percent shooting (9-for-25) from the free-throw line.
“If you can’t make a free throw, you can’t win a basketball game at any point,” said SBU coach Steve Pikiell. “I never saw a number like that in my life.”
The Bears had dominated the first 11 minutes, shutting down the Seawolves with aggressive man-to-man defense while manufacturing a 25-6 lead at the 9:17 mark.
McLemore scored eight first-half points, including two of UMaine’s six 3-point baskets.
“We’re one of the better defensive teams in the league and we had a lot of trouble guarding them today,” Pikiell said.
However, the visitors buckled down on defense and got UMaine to take some quick shots. The Bears scored only nine points the rest of the half and led 34-26 at the break.
Stony Brook fought back within five points at 42-37 with 14:59 to play, but the Bears eventually were able to work for better shots.
UMaine’s halftime chat centered around matching Stony Brook’s physical play.
“It wasn’t like different plays or whatnot, the posts just had to be more physical, the guards had to be stronger with their dribbles and get it down low,” McLemore said.
With the Bearcats threatening, the Bears put together a timely scoring run to push the margin back to double digits.
Barnies opened the spurt with a foul shot, then Mitchell scored back-to-back layups in transition to provide some momentum and give UMaine a 47-37 lead with 12:58 remaining. The Bears eventually pushed the advantage back to as many as 18 at 65-47.
“We knew the second half we had to play a little tougher,” Woodward said. “I thought we had some good defensive sequences which allowed us to have some good offensive sequences.”