ORONO, Maine — Binghamton University might be winless this season, but the University of Maine men’s basketball team didn’t take the Bearcats for granted.
And Binghamton made sure the Black Bears earned their victory Saturday afternoon.
UMaine built a 20-point, second-half lead, then watched the Bearcats claw within seven in the late going before finishing off a 67-59 America East men’s basketball victory at Alfond Arena.
“We know Binghamton is a solid team,” said UMaine senior Gerald McLemore. “Their record might not show it, but we know every time we play them it’s going to be a battle.”
Freshman Justin Edwards tallied 18 points to top a list of three players in double figures to help coach Ted Woodward’s Black Bears (10-10, 4-5 AE) win their second straight game.
McLemore tossed in 15 points, 13 in the first half, while junior Mike Allison registered a double-double with 10 points and 15 rebounds in a strong effort by the Bears.
UMaine has responded well after a five-game losing streak that ended Wednesday at New Hampshire.
“It’s basically stay positive and keep your head up,” McLemore said. “… We’ve got to keep pushing, we’ve got to keep preparing in the correct way; don’t get too down, don’t get negative.”
Jimmy Gray tallied a game-high and career-best 24 points to pace Binghamton (0-21, 0-9 AE). He also contributed six rebounds, four assists and three steals. Robert Mansell posted 15 points, eight rebounds and four assists.
The Bears utilized their quick-striking tranistion game to build a comfortable cushion early in the second half. UMaine scored 10 unanswered points amidst a 16-3 burst that turned a seven-point lead into a 47-27 bulge.
Edwards was among the catalysts, scoring on a finger roll off a baseline drive, a conventional three-point play on an offensive rebound and free throw, and a steal and dunk during the surge.
“The way they play, it’s hard to really get in transition a lot and they’ve been keeping a lot of games (close) in that same way,” Woodward said.
Binghamton clawed its way back, answering with an 18-5 burst that included five points by Gray. The Bearcats twice cut the deficit to seven points, but the hosts kept the upper hand.
“Even in our youth and inexperience, we kept fighting to stay in that game, to get back in the game,” said Binghamton coach Mark Macon.
Binghamton shot 43 percent (23-for-54) from the floor for the game.
UMaine outscored Binghamton 15-8 from the foul line and emerged with a 40-34 rebounding edge.
“They put a shooter on for the bigs (post players), so I had a pretty big mismatch on the glass and I tried to take advantage of that as much as I could,” Allison said.
The Bears outscored the Bearcats 30-16 in the paint and scored 19 points off 14 turnovers by the visitors.
The Black Bears led 31-24 at intermission after a solid but somewhat inconsistent effort.
UMaine overcame eight turnovers by shooting 48 percent (13-for-27) from the field behind a 5-for-8 performance by McLemore, who was 3-for-5 from long range.
The Bearcats did not exhibit much cohesiveness on the offensive end, but Gray hit two 3-pointers on his way to 12 points. His contributions helped keep UMaine from building an even bigger lead.
The Black Bears scored 10 points as a result of nine Binghamton turnovers and held a 15-14 rebounding edge, but found themselves outmuscled on the glass several times.
UMaine shook off a sluggish start in the first 3½ minutes and turned things around behind the shooting of McLemore.
With the Bears down 8-3, McLemore drilled a 3-pointer at the 16:26 mark that sparked what would be a 14-2 surge. He followed with another 3-pointer off a high screen, then made a reverse layup off a baseline cut on another designed play.
“I thought Gerald really carried us in the first half,” Woodward said.
“Mike Allison came off the bench and did a great job,” he added.
Xavier Pollard’s transition basket from the lane put UMaine up by five before Mansell ended a drought of nearly five minutes for Binghamton with an 18-foot jumper. However, Allison threw down a dunk off an Andrew Rogers feed and McLemore buried a 17-footer off an Allison assist to give the hosts a 17-10 lead at the 10:40 mark.
UMaine led by as many as 10 points (29-19) late in the half.