WEST HARTFORD, Conn. — Offense often came hard for the University of Maine this season against America East opponents.
Saturday night, the Black Bears did not have their most prolific scorer.
Vermont limited a gritty UMaine squad to eight points over the last seven minutes and finally found its shooting touch late to grind out a 50-40 quarterfinal victory at the University of Hartford’s Chase Family Arena.
“(We’ve talked) about keeping our composure, keeping with the plan and just continuing to defend and rebound and then offense will find itself eventually,” said Vermont coach John Becker.
Second-seeded Vermont (21-11) plays No. 6 Hartford in Sunday’s semifinals.
Coach Ted Woodward’s Black Bears bow out at 12-17.
UMaine was without senior guard Gerald McLemore — and his 19 points per game. The three-time, all-conference standout contracted a flu that has spread among team members during the last two weeks.
McLemore was hospitalized briefly Thursday to receive intravenous fluids, but was unable to recover in time and could not make the trip.
“Not having G out there, just his presence shooting the ball offensively, defensively, too — I thought we picked up the slack,” said senior co-captain Andrew Rogers. “I thought we all played well.”
The Bears tried to take McLemore’s absence in stride and trust in each other.
“We’re all very comfortable with each other, so it was definitely hard without him,” Rogers said.
“But he was there in spirit and we all talked to him before the game, so he was definitely rooting for us,” he added.
The Black Bears played inspired ball without their senior co-captain, but could have used his perimeter scoring skills.
UMaine went 0-for-17 from beyond the 3-point arc on its way to 32 percent overall shooting.
“Unfortunately, we would have liked to have made a few 3’s,” said Woodward, who explained UMaine had a couple of days to plan for McLemore’s potential absence. He refused to use it as an excuse.
“Gerald’s a great player, we’d love to have him here, but we had a lot of confidence in our (other) perimeter guys,” Woodward added.
The Bears’ outstanding defense and a balanced offense put them in position to make the upset bid. They led 30-24 with 13:13 remaining.
However, Vermont began to gain confidence and momentum when Brendan Bald and Matt Glass buried back-to-back 3-pointers 27 seconds apart to tie the game at 30 with 8:26 to play.
“It’s always good to see some shots fall and see the results on the scoreboard,” Glass said.
“It was a sense of relief. It took a long time to hit a shot, he added. “My teammates stuck with me and my coaches stuck with me.”
That helped energize the Catamounts and their fans. UMaine regained the lead for the last time on Kilian Cato’s nifty drive and finger roll, but struggled the rest of the way against Vermont’s man-to-man and 2-3 zone defenses.
The Bears had four turnovers in the last 6 1/2 minutes that led directly to eight points as Vermont ended the game on a 26-8 run.
“It was an obvious difference in defense from the first half to the second half,” said UMaine sophomore Alasdair Fraser (10 points, 7 rebounds), who also has been sick.“They came out and did a great job in the second half.”
The Catamounts took advantage of transition opportunities and were able to attack the basket effectively which led to a 13-5 second-half of foul disparity. Vermont converted 11 of 13 free throws in the final 6:45 on the way to a 14-6 advantage overall.
UMaine still trailed only 40-38 after a Raheem Singleton foul shot at the 3:28 mark and subsequently had three chances to regain the lead. However, the Bears could not convert.
Glass (16 points) stuck a 3-pointer with the shot clock running out at the 2:07 mark to push UVM’s lead to five, then Singleton (7 points, 4 assists) answered with an eight-footer, but Brian Voelkel (8 assists, 9 rebounds) found Glass underneath for the back-breaker with a minute to play.
Singleton was called for a player-control foul on the next possession.
Luke Apfeld contributed 12 points and seven rebounds for Vermont, which committed only two second-half turnovers after making 11 in the first half. Rookie of the Year Four McGlynn added eight points and Bald posted six points and five rebounds.
Junior Mike Allison contributed seven points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots.
Freshman Justin Edwards, another player affected by illness, went 2-for-14 on his way to only six points.
The Catamounts outrebounded the Bears 40-32.