ORONO, Maine — University of Maine coach Richard Barron couldn’t help but let out a “yee-hah,” as he addressed the crowd Monday night moments after his Black Bears finished off a 70-60 America East women’s basketball victory over Vermont.
UMaine players were all smiles as they stood at center court and sang “The Stein Song,” proclaiming the end to the Bears’ 11-game losing streak.
“Obviously for this program, for us right now, this is a big win and an exciting game and hopefully something that we can build on,” said Barron, whose team won for the first time since beating Division III Maine Maritime Academy back on Nov. 29.
Senior forward Samantha Baranowski scored a career-high 18 points, going 8-for-10 from the foul line in the last two minutes, to help UMaine (4-14, 1-4 AE) secure the victory at Alfond Arena. Freshman Courtney Anderson of Greene made all eight of her foul shots in the late going to help UMaine hold on.
The Bears went 26-for-38 from the line.
“It just felt good. I don’t know what else to say,” said Baranowski, who helped UMaine dominate in the paint.
The Black Bears outscored Vermont 40-30 inside and made only two of their 22 field goals outside the paint.
Vermont (8-11, 2-4 AE) was playing its first game without junior forward Lauren Buschmann, its top scorer and rebounder, who suffered a serious knee injury Saturday at New Hampshire.
“She has been the last line of defense for us in a lot of situations and her presence inside and her post defense is so tough,” said UVM coach Lori Gear McBride. “I think that Baranowski really took advantage of that in the first half, especially.”
UMaine also took care of the basketball. The Bears committed only 14 turnovers, including just six in the second half.
Conversely, the Bears scored 16 points off 17 Catamount turnovers.
“We did a better job tonight than any point this year of when we got into trouble, not turning the ball over and managing to either find an opportunity to drive and get to the free-throw line or hit someone on a late cut (to the basket),” Barron said.
Senior Brittany Williams scored 11 points, while Anderson (4 assists, 2 steals) and Ashleigh Roberts posted 10 points each. Freshman Becca Knight of Alfred provided a spark, returning from a two-game absence with an elbow injury to contribute nine points and six rebounds. Classmate Danielle Walczak added seven points and seven boards.
“I give Maine a lot of credit,” Gear McBride said. “They did a good job. They played with a lot of poise and confidence and they stuck their free throws at the end.”
Vermont was paced by 17 points and nine rebounds from freshman Niki Taylor of York. Lauren Wheeler netted 12 and Shanai Hebert added eight points, 13 rebounds, four assists and two steals.
The Catamounts outrebounded the Bears 43-37 and managed 15 second-half points. However, UVM could not find an offensive rhythm against UMaine’s man-to-man defense.
“We just tried to get them to play hard and feel confident in themselves that we’re not just a one-trick pony, we can do more than just pound it inside to Buschmann,” McBride said of approaching the first game without its leader.
The Catamounts went 4-for-20 from beyond the 3-point arc and missed 13 in a row from long distance during one long stretch of the contest.
“I thought we did a decent job in our half-court defense getting out and contesting shooters,” Barron said. “We thought that was a big key to the game. This (UVM) team can shoot the 3 very well.”
The Black Bears generated some excitement and momentum late in the first half, scoring 12 unanswered points to build a 35-23 advantage.
UMaine held the Catamounts scoreless over the last 6½ minutes of the half to turn a 23-23 deadlock into a solid lead by the break.
Both teams had eight first-half turnovers, but UMaine scored 13 points off the Vermont miscues while the visitors converted the Bears’ turnovers into only four points.
The Bears were fairly efficient with the ball all night and wound up shooting 44 percent (22-for-50) from the floor, including 52 percent in the first half.
UMaine took the lead with an early 10-0 surge that featured two baskets by Roberts and gave the Bears a 12-6 lead.
The hosts eventually took the lead for good in the last 6:19 of the half. Knight got the run started with a spin move underneath, then Baranowski hit a pair of short jump hooks in the lane, one with each hand, to make it 29-23 with 5:04 remaining.
One free throw each by Walczak and Baranowski and driving layups by Roberts and Williams pushed the advantage to 35-23 with 48.5 seconds left in the half.
“I feel like everybody contributed well,” Baranowski said. “We got a lot of back cuts, which is something we’ve tried to look for in practice. It felt good to see it coming together today.”