ORONO — Cohesive defense has been the key to the success of the University of Maine men’s basketball team this season.
Sunday afternoon, for the second straight game, the Black Bears’ defense wasn’t good enough.
The University of Maryland Baltimore County hit its first nine shots of the second half to manufacture a game-changing run that propelled the Retrievers to an 84-79 America East victory at Alfond Arena.
The result was a bit of a surprise as eighth-place UMBC (5-19, 4-7 AE) helped relegate UMaine (14-9, 8-3 AE) to second place in the standings, 1 1/2 games behind Vermont (19-5, 10-2 AE).
“They’ve got a lot of guys that can make shots. Their point guard is one of the most dynamic players in the league,” said UMaine coach Ted Woodward. “We knew this was going to be a battle coming in. It’s not like we took them lightly. That’s not it, even a little bit.”
UMBC picked apart the Bears’ defense after intermission, shooting 63 percent (15-for-24) from the field. Justin Fry, a 6-foot-10 forward, went 9-for-10 from the floor on his way to 20 points in 20 minutes of action.
“The biggest disappointment is our defense and I give them credit, they definitely made shots, free throws,” said UMaine junior Gerald McLemore, who led the Bears with 24 points, including five 3-pointers. “But we need to make things tougher on teams from here on out.”
A crowd of 1,712 was on hand as UMaine honored former Black Bears hoop star Bob Warner (Class of 1976) by retiring his No. 52 jersey. He joins Skip Chappelle (34), Keith Mahaney (24) and Rufus Harris (20) in that select group.
UMaine also recognized its athletes’ academic excellence, culminating in the presentation of the “M” Club’s Dean Smith Awards. Swimmer Jeremy Bender and runner Corey Conner were named the top student-athletes for the 2010 calendar year.
In the game, UMaine (14-9, 8-3 AE) couldn’t stop a balanced Retriever offense that featured the slick playmaking skills of Chris De La Rosa (24 points, 13 assists and six rebounds in 38 minutes).
The Retrievers effectively attacked UMaine’s defenses, including man-to-man and a 2-3 zone. Adrian Satchell (12 points) and Laurence Jolicoeur (11 points) combined to go 8-for-12 from the field and UMBC shot 48 percent for the game.
Troy Barnies of Auburn contributed 14 points and 11 rebounds, but was held scoreless in the second half. Sean McNally of Gardiner added 11 points and six rebounds while Alasdair Frazer posted nine points and eight boards.
UMaine hampered its own efforts by committing 19 turnovers. The Retrievers took advantage of the miscues, scoring 32 points (38 percent of their total) as a result of them.
“We had a lot of stupid turnovers,” said Barnies, who had five.
“We need to really take care of the ball and play defense. Those are two (key) things,” he added.
The Bears held a seemingly comfortable 44-33 halftime lead after shooting 53 percent and grabbing a 23-12 rebounding edge. UMaine led by as many as 17 points (31-14) at one juncture.
The second half was all UMBC.
Fry’s 17-foot turnaround jumper at the 18:39 mark ignited a 20-4 surge that consumed barely more than six minutes and reinvigorated the Retrievers. Brian Neller nailed a 3-pointer, then Fry converted from underneath to cut the deficit to 49-42. McLemore made two foul shots to end the run at eight points, but UMBC responded by rattling off 11 consecutive points.
“I thought we came out in the second half and did a phenomenal job of moving the ball around and looking for key players,” said UMBC coach Randy Monroe.
De La Rosa hit a baseline runner, Fry buried a long jumper and De La Rosa cashed in on a UMaine turnover with a 3-pointer. It was the Retrievers’ seventh basket without a miss.
Fry then scored on a baseline cut and sank and 18-footer, both off feeds by De La Rosa feed, to give UMBC its first lead at 53-51 with 13:14 left.
“I thought today we struggled with the high ball screen,” Barnies said. “They brought up our ‘five’ man (center) on the ball screen to spread it out a little bit and they let their point guard do the work. He found guys and got it done.”
UMBC later built its lead to 70-62 with 3:42 to play and UMaine couldn’t answer.
The Bears got within five on two Mitchell free throws and one from McLemore, who missed the back end of a two-shot intentional foul before Barnies missed two shots from the paint, forcing the Bears to hack and hope down the stretch.