HAMDEN, Conn. — The University of Maine men’s basketball team scrambled back from its Christmas break and worked around weather issues in time to play Saturday’s game at Quinnipiac.
With only a day of preparation, the Black Bears demonstrated they are ready to attack the America East portion of the season.
Justin Edwards tossed in a game-high 26 points and UMaine battled hard against a physical Quinnipiac frontcourt to earn a 76-71 victory at the TD Bank Center.
“For us not to play since Florida Gulf Coast (Dec. 22) and to have one good practice and go into our next game, I give the guys a lot of credit,” said UMaine head coach Ted Woodward.
It was the second straight victory for 5-8 UMaine, which opens its America East season at home Wednesday at 7 p.m. against Boston University.
The Black Bears squandered a nine-point lead early in the second half, but overcame a four-point deficit and outdueled the Bobcats down the stretch.
“We just wanted to keep our composure and keep executing,” Edwards said. “We were getting points and we were getting fouls, so we just knew what to do and we kept our composure.”
The sophomore guard was the offensive catalyst as the Bears attacked in transition to break down the defense off the dribble. The sophomore went 10-for-16 from the floor and contributed five rebounds, four assists, three steals and a blocked shot in a well-rounded performance.
Junior forward Alasdair Fraser registered a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds and solidified the Bears’ interior defense. Junior guard Jon Mesghna tallied 13 points, four rebounds, four assists and two steals, while sophomore guard Xavier Pollard posted eight poitns and five assists.
Senior Mike Allison provided an interior presence with seven points and five rebounds and freshman forward Till Gloger chipped in with five points and six rebounds.
“I thought we had really nice contributions form guys off our bench, Till Gloger and Shaun Lawton in particular,” Woodward said.
UMaine shot 55 percent (29-for-53) from the field and went 5-for-11 from 3-point range, but did struggled from the foul line. The Bears made only 13 of 25 (52 percent).
Quinnipiac (4-7) outrebounded UMaine 42-35, including 21 offensive boards that led to numerous second-chance points. However, the hosts shot only 37 percent despite attempting 18 more field goals.
Ike Azotam headed a quartet of double-figure scorers for the Bobcats with 16 points and nine rebounds. Evan Conti tallied 12 points and five rebounds, while Dave Johnson (7 assists) and Ousmane Drame added 11 and 10 points, respectively.
Quinnipiac shot only 18 percent (3-for-17) from 3-point range.
The Bears had surged in front with a 9-0 run early in the second half. Allison made a free throw, then Edwards dunked in transition to give UMaine a 47-43 lead 2:15 into the half.
Gloger’s foul shot, a 3-pointer by Mesghna off a Pollard assist and Edwards’ layup, also set up by Pollard, gave the Bears a 53-44 advantage with 16:22 to play.
“Most of their points were off second opportunities, so by limiting that, it helped us get the lead and we were able to run off those rebounds we got and get points in transition,” Edwards said.
Quinnipiac settled down after that by pounding the ball inside and controlling the offensive boards. The Bobcats rattled off 13 unanswered points, most off close-range baskets, to go ahead 59-55 with 11:03 remaining.
The Bears responded shortly thereafter and took the lead for good. A 3-pointer by Mesghna gave UMaine a 62-61 edge at the 8:24 mark, then Edwards made a layup in transition on the next possession.
Johnson countered with a free throw for for the hosts, but an Allison foul shot and Edwards’ runner in the lane pushed the lead to 67-62 with 3:54 left.
“I thought we responded very well after they made their run,” Woodward said. “It was a significant run, but we didn’t break apart; we stayed together.”
Quinnipiac trailed by as many as seven late, but fought back within a possession on a Conti layup with 47 seconds to play. The Bobcats had a chance to equalize after Mesghna missed both ends of a double bonus, but Zaid Hearst’s 3-pointer missed and Fraser rebounded with only five seconds left, then made two free throws to ice it.