ORONO — With a sparse early schedule, the University of Maine men’s basketball team hasn’t had much of an opportunity to find out what it can do.
Sunday afternoon, it took the Black Bears a while to get rolling, but it proved worth the wait.
UMaine surged late in the first half, then limited Holy Cross to 29 second-half points to register a 72-60 victory at Alfond Arena.
It was the first meeting between the two programs since 1983 and marked UMaine’s first win in seven games.
Freshman guard Justin Edwards scored a game-high 22 points and provided a team-best seven rebounds and six assists to help coach Ted Woodward’s team improve to 2-1.
“This was a good win for us, especially coming off an incredibly long preseason,” said Woodward, who noted UMaine was the last Division I team to play its third game of the season.
“I was worried a little bit that we just wouldn’t be in our rhythm to start and I thought it took us a little while,” he added.
The Crusaders (2-4) built a 29-17 lead behind strong 3-point shooting and good rebounding. However, the Bears locked down on defense, playing mostly man-to-man, to turn the game in their favor.
UMaine limited Holy Cross to 31 points over the last 25 minutes, causing 12 turnovers in that span. The Bears also responded at the offensive end as Edwards and senior guard Gerald McLemore (18 points) combined to provide a potent, two-pronged attack.
The Crusaders committed 17 turnovers, which led directly to 20 points by the Bears, who had only eight turnovers.
“You turn the ball over 17 times, it’s really hard to win the game,” said Holy Cross coach Milan Brown.
“We left some opportunities on the board and they took advantage of it,” he added.
Leading 29-17, Holy Cross appeared to be in control when UMaine found some chemistry late in the first half. McLemore connected for 10 points in the last 3:56 to ignite a 14-2 surge that sent the teams to their respective locker rooms tied 31-31.
The Crusaders built their lead behind crisp offensive execution and hit five 3-pointers on 39 percent accuracy. UMaine was gradually able to better account for those shooters with good ball pressure and better rotation out of their man-to-man and 3-2 zone sets.
“We stayed home more. We didn’t help off the shooters as much,” McLemore said.
Svetoslav Chetinov opened the key surge by hitting a turnaround shot from down low, before McLemore took charge. He sank a 3-pointer after a Holy Cross turnover, then followed it up with a driving layup.
Dave Dudzinski (20 points, 5 rebounds) answered for the Crusaders with an eight-footer, but McLemore made a 3-pointer and two foul shots and Edwards scored a transition layup to give UMaine some life.
“(In) one of the timeouts, coach pulled us all aside and said, ‘listen, guys, be aggressive, trust in your own skill and just be aggressive,’” McLemore said of the Bears’ turnaround.
“I don’t know if it was nervousness or whatnot, but we definitely settled down,” he added. “We trusted in one another and just played ball.”
The Bears scored the first five points of the second half to take the lead for good, but didn’t get separation until later.
UMaine led 55-54 when Andrew Rogers buried a 3-pointer and Edwards banked one in from beyond the arc to put the Bears up by seven with 8:14 left. Dudzinski countered for Holy Cross with a 16-footer, but Rogers made a 16-footer, Alasdair Fraser (12 points, 4 rebounds) converted a low-post move and Edwards dunked after his tap-away steal, giving UMaine a 67-56 lead with 6:12 to play.
The Bears shot 47 percent from the field, including 55 percent (16-for-29) in the second half.
“They just kept plugging along, made some more plays than us and they capitalized on some of our crazy turnovers,” Brown said.
Rogers (7 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists), Kilian Cato (6 points, 6 rebounds), Raheem Singleton (5 points, 4 assists, 2 steals) and Chetinov all made solid contributions for the Bears.
Jordan Stevens contributed 11 points, Phil Beans had six points and five rebounds and Malcolm Miller posted four points, seven rebounds and three assists for the Crusaders.
UMaine was without forwards Mike Allison (broken hand) and Travon Wilcher (broken foot), along with guard Noam Laish (hip). Singleton didn’t practice until Saturday with an ankle injury, but played 17 minutes.
The Bears’ starters logged an average of 33 minutes.
UMaine next plays Wednesday night at Eastern Illinois.