ORONO — Monday night was the beginning to a challenging week for the members of the University of Maine men’s basketball team.
It is to include two games in four nights at opposite ends of the college basketball spectrum.
The goal for the Black Bears is to approach each with purpose and conviction, regardless of the opponent.
Coach Ted Woodward’s team took care of business on the first count Monday, opening the 2011-12 season with a resounding 113-49 victory over the University of Maine-Machias.
The Black Bears lit up the Memorial Gym scoreboard by shooting a sizzling 73.5 percent from the field (25-for-34) while dispatching their opponent from the Yankee Small College Conference and the United States Small College Athletic Association.
“The first thing we wanted to do was to play together and play hard for 40 minutes. I think we did that,” Woodward said.
UMaine exhibited outstanding offensive chemistry, as senior point guards Andrew Rogers (11 assists) and Raheem Singleton (9 assists) facilitated a high-powered performance.
“Definitely I thought we played well offensively,” Rogers said. “It was good to get out there and play as a team.”
The Bears bolted to a 20-3 advantage behind 10 points from senior guard Gerald McLemore (21 points) and were able to maintain their crisp execution and shooting success against the outmanned Clippers (1-4).
UMaine-Machias enjoyed occasional success in the first half by attacking the basket and getting to the foul line, but UMaine afforded the Clippers only 17 second-half points on 18 percent (6-for-33) shooting.
UMaine knocked down 14 3-pointers on 52 percent accuracy, with McLemore and freshman forward Kilian Cato hitting four each. The Bears also dominated the paint behind sophomore center Alasdair Fraser, who went 7-for-8 from the floor and 5-for-5 from the foul line en route to 19 points and 12 rebounds.
“Making the extra passes, really,” Fraser said was the key to the effort. “Making the extra passes as opposed to taking the first open shot.”
UMaine must now prepare for Thursday night’s game against defending national champion Connecticut in Hartford.
The Bears go from being an overwhelming favorite to a huge underdog.
“It’s going to be a great test offensively and defensively,” Rogers said.
The show-stopper Monday was high-flying freshman guard Justin Edwards, who scored 15 of his game-high 24 points in the second half. Edwards wowed the crowd with three dunks, including a fast-break exclamation point with 4:02 to play.
He is looking forward to playing UConn.
“You just treat it like every other game,” Edwards said.
Edwards also grabbed nine rebounds and contributed five steals, three blocked shots and two assists in 25 minutes of action.
“He knows what he’s doing,” Woodward said of Edwards’ dunking ability. “He’s a dynamic scorer, a tremendous athlete, a guy who will be a key guy for us all year long.”
Cato finished with 14 points and first-year guard Zarko Valjarevic made three 3-pointers on his way to 13 points for UMaine.
Jeremy Tolbert paced UMaine-Machias with 11 points, while Zach Armstrong and Will Lewis contributed 10 points each. The Clippers didn’t get a lot of open looks from the perimeter and also committed 17 turnovers that helped fuel the Bears’ transition attack.
UMaine’s initial 17-0 run sent a message to the Clippers that they would be difficult to stop.
Fraser opened the surge with a dunk, then McLemore hit a finger roll off a feed from Singleton. McLemore drained an 18-footer from the top of the key off a UMM turnover, then Singleton’s steal and layup turned into a conventional three-point play that made it 12-3 with 4 1/2 minutes gone.
McLemore then drained a 3-pointer in transition before driving the lane for a hoop off a turnover and hitting the free throw to complete the three-point play. Singleton capped the run by blowing past the defense for a layup that put UMaine in charge.
The 6-foot-3 Edwards drove in for a baseline dunk with 8:55 left in the first half during a stretch where he scored seven straight UMaine points and nine of 11. He threw down two more in the last 4:02, the last of which caused the shot clock attached to the backboard to go dark.
“I’m not going to do anything too fancy in games,” Edward said when asked whether he has to be selective about trying to dunk. “You don’t want to get hurt.”
UMaine was without a handful of players because of injuries. That group included junior forward Mike Allison and freshman guards Noam Laish and Xavier Pollard.
The Bears had an easy time on the offensive end against the Clippers while building their 63-32 halftime advantage.
UMaine was able to get the ball inside to Fraser, but also attacked successfully off the dribble behind McLemore and Rogers.
The Bears shot 73.5 percent from the floor, connecting on 25 of 34 field-goal attempts. That included 8-for-14 accuracy from beyond the 3-point arc.