ORONO, Maine — Even strong teams have had trouble slowing down the University of Maine this season. Saturday afternoon, the Black Bears faced the most forgiving defense in America East.
Senior guard Gerald McLemore connected for 20 of his game-high 29 points in the second half as UMaine shot 62 percent from the floor in the period while posting an 89-70 men’s basketball victory over the University of Maryland Baltimore County at Alfond Arena.
Coach Ted Woodward’s Black Bears (8-5, 2-0 AE) had their best output of the season against a Division I opponent, combining a crisp transition attack and effective half-court execution to shred the UMBC defense.
The Retrievers (2-13, 1-2 AE), who came in allowing 77.7 points per game, couldn’t stop the Bears. UMaine spread the floor and established Alasdair Fraser (16 points, 11 rebounds) in the paint, got McLemore open from beyond the arc and found spots for dribble penetration behind Raheem Singleton (17 points, 4 assists, 2 steals) and Andrew Rogers (7 assists).
Flashy freshman Justin Edwards added 11 points and three assists for UMaine, which shot 51 percent (27-for-53) overall, going 8-for-18 from 3-point distance, and also converted 27 of 29 free throws.
UMaine also was able to take advantage of mistakes by the Retrievers, scoring 25 points off the visitors’ 17 turnovers.
“We definitely have to do a better job of taking care of the basketball,” said UMBC coach Randy Monroe.
Chase Plummer’s 17 points paced a balanced effort for UMBC, which outrebounded UMaine 34-31. Ryan Cook (8 rebounds) and Thomas Chandler each provided 15 points.
“You’ve got to play with some fire, with some passion and believe in yourself that you can play college basketball, do the things that you need to do to be successful,” said Monroe, who credited the Bears for their play.
It took them a while to get into a good defensive rhythm, but the Bears settled down playing a 3-2 zone and mixing in a 1-2-2 press to build a 43-30 halftime lead.
Junior Jon McAllian of Bangor provided a lift with gritty interior defense and rebounding and six points. He also jump-started UMaine’s decisive first-half run with a 3-pointer at the 9:52 mark.
Singleton followed by going coast to coast for a pump move in the paint that turned into a three-point play, then stuck a 3-pointer. Fraser’s baseline layup off a Rogers feed made it 33-21 with 8:08 left in the half.
“If we get the ball and outlet, they’re on their heels and they’ve got to make a decision,” McLemore said. “Sometimes, it’s a bad decision because they’re out of sorts and they’re not set.”
The Bears eventually extended the margin to 41-23 behind their defense, which held UMBC to one field goal during a span of more than seven minutes. UMaine scored 15 points off 11 UMBC turnovers in the half.
UMaine never led by fewer than 10 points after that and finally used a 14-1 second-half spurt to end the suspense.
“I thought we got stuck in the first half a little bit, just couldn’t get some stops,” Woodward said. “I thought mixing our defense worked pretty well and we were able to get into transition some.”
McAllian and freshman Xavier Pollard made key contributions off the bench for the Bears, who were without senior backup center Svetoslav Chetinov because of an undisclosed injury.
“I think he did a good job,” Woodward said of McAllian. “He was able to use his quickness some.”
One of the highlights for the crowd of 1,515 came with 7:46 to play. Rogers dribbled into the lane and floated an all-oop pass to Edwards, who deftly completed a reverse dunk that is likely to wind up on some highlight reels.
Earlier in the half, Edwards had risen up to block a UMBC shot, then fed McLemore for a fast-break finger roll on a three-point play as the Bears began to extend their lead.