ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine was missing one of its “Big 3” Monday night.
With the Black Bears taking on a surging Vermont team, they didn’t have quite enough offensive weapons to overcome the loss of starting center Alasdair Fraser.
Brendan Bald and Sandro Carissimo made steals and scored layups on back-to-back possessions in the late going to help Vermont withstand a second-half charge by the Black Bears and earn a 73-63 America East victory at Memorial Gym.
Vermont (16-10, 10-2 AE) pounded the ball inside for 32 points in the paint and scored 21 points as a result of UMaine turnovers to register its seventh consecutive victory.
Coach Ted Woodward’s UMaine team (11-11, 5-6 AE) saw its three-game winning streak halted after making a valiant comeback attempt.
“That was a good fight-back, but it’s February and we’re not looking for a fight, we’re looking for a win,” said UMaine senior tri-captain Gerald McLemore.
The Black Bears were without the rugged Fraser, who sprained his right ankle late in Saturday’s overtime victory at Maryland Baltimore County. UMaine missed Fraser but didn’t use his absence as an excuse.
Vermont appeared headed for a comfortable victory after opening the second half with a 6-2 run to take a 43-27 lead.
The Catamounts spread the ball around, finding some lanes to penetrate, pounding the ball inside and hitting some open perimeter shots.
“I feel they’re a very good team,” said McLemore, who paced UMaine with a game-high 20 points, including 5-for-9 shooting from 3-point range.
“You sit there and you play defense for 25, 30 seconds and [they] end up getting good shots and it wears you down,” he explained.
The Bears responded with a 14-2 surge that featured six points from McLemore, who hit a 3-pointer and converted a conventional three-point play. Two Raheem Singleton foul shots later got UMaine within 45-41 with 12:08 left.
The Catamounts stemmed the tide as Carissimo scored from underneath and Brian Voelkel converted a spin move down low — both after UMaine turnovers — to restore the Vermont lead to eight.
The visitors pushed the advantage to 12 before UMaine made its final challenge.
Edwards hit a runner in the lane and Singleton made a free throw, but Luke Apfeld scored on a baseline drive for Vermont. Edwards then tipped in his own miss and McLemore buried a 3-pointer to make it 61-55 with 3:24 to play.
“I thought they had really good energy,” said first-year Vermont coach John Becker. “They were a tougher team than us for the first half, maybe the first 15 minutes, of the second half.”
The Catamounts refused to allow the Bears to get any closer.
UMaine turned the ball over in the paint on its next two possessions leading to the layups by Bald and Carissimo that sparked an 8-0 run and put Vermont in control.
“We regained our footing and were able to make enough plays down the stretch,” Becker said.
Matt Glass led Vermont, which shot 42 percent for the game, with 17 points. Apfeld and Bald netted 13 points each.
Edwards contributed 15 points (on 5-for-20 shooting), nine rebounds, five assists, three blocked shots and a steal for UMaine. Mike Allison added 10 points, eight rebounds, three steals and five blocks.
UMaine shot 43 percent (12-for-28) from the floor in the second half.
“I thought our guys fought hard,” Woodward said. “Our defense clearly progressed as the game went along, I thought our rebounding was solid, but we didn’t do enough things that we want to do on the offensive end.”
Vermont shoting 45 percent in the first half and played strong defense, building a 37-25 halftime lead. Bald went 3-for-3 from long distance and the visitors converted seven of 10 free throws while demonstrating good balance.
“We had trouble kind of finding a rhythm on defense in the first half,” said Woodward, who alternated between man-to-man and a 3-2 matchup zone.
The Bears had difficulty creating open looks consistently, but stayed aggressive attacking the basket. They often didn’t convert, shooting 37 percent overall, and were not the beneficiaries of many foul calls.
McLemore connected for 11 first-half points on the strength of three 3-pointers and Allison contributed six points and five rebounds, but Edwards went 2-for-10 from the field.
UMaine did not establish a low-post presence with Fraser on the sideline, although Allison made his presence felt on the defensive end with three blocks.