ORONO, Maine — There are many things this year’s University of Maine men’s basketball team has to learn on its road to the America East tournament.
Resilience and fight aren’t among them.
The Black Bears responded to two second-half runs by Boston University with confidence and calm Wednesday night, riding the inside play of Alasdair Fraser to a late surge that lifted UMaine to a 63-58 victory in the teams’ mutual conference at Alfond Arena.
Fraser scored nine of his team-high 17 points in the last five minutes, helping a resilient UMaine ballclub (6-8) claim its third consecutive win.
“I thought it was a great, gut-check win,” said UMaine coach Ted Woodward. “We had to dig down deep.”
Even with leading scorer Justin Edwards struggling through an off night (10 points on 2-for-11 shooting, 5 assists), the Black Bears (6-8) received plenty of other contributions to weather some quick scoring bursts by the Terriers (6-8, 0-1 AE).
UMaine changed the tone of the contest in the second half with an extended 2-3 zone defense. The alignment enabled the hosts to better limit the penetration of speedy BU guards D.J. Irving (15 points) and Maurice Watson Jr. (13 points, 7 assists) while also getting a hand in the face of the Terriers’ perimeter shooters.
“When we play actively and aggressively and our rotations are good in it, it’s good for us,” Woodward said. “I thought we did a good job executing that zone tonight.”
The Bears were eventually able to solve the Terriers’ combination of 2-3 zone and man-to-man defenses. BU stymied UMaine’s dribble penetration much of the night and bottled up the paint effectively. However, when junior Jon Mesghna (8 points) hit two 3-pointers in the second half, it helped open things up for the Bears in the post.
Fraser, who managed only six points and committed four turnovers in first half, took over down the stretch. The junior scored nine points in the last 4:43 and finished with six rebounds, three steals and three blocked shots.
“If we knock down a couple 3’s like that, they have to play us more honest, they can’t pack the paint as much, and it makes it easier to get your catches,” Fraser said.
The Bears displayed balance as sophomore guard Xavier Pollard (3 assists) scored eight of his 13 points to pace the offense in the first half.
Senior Mike Allison posted seven points and 11 rebounds as UMaine outrebounded BU 35-26. The Bears also received a second-half spark from freshman guard Shaun Lawton (6 points, 2 assists, 1 steal) and classmate Till Gloger added solid post play.
The Terriers appeared to seize the momentum early in the second half. Four players hit 3-pointers to spearhead a 12-3 surge that gave BU a 38-29 advantage with 15:42 to play.
UMaine called timeout, switched to the 2-3 zone and quickly regained its confidence. Mesghna made a 3-pointer and a driving scoop shot and Lawton added a reverse baseline layup and a runner during a 13-4 run that tied the game at 42-42.
“We just feed off our defense,” Pollard said. “When we get out on the break and run, everything just flows through our (defense).”
The teams then traded runs, with BU taking a 53-47 lead on Watson’s fast-break layup with 5:40 remaining.
The Bears stood their ground. Edwards opened the game-clinching surge with a 3-pointer, before Fraser hit a short jump hook and a free throw to tie things up.
“That’s been a problem for us a little bit. We get leads and we give them away,” said BU coach Joe Jones.
“Foolish decisions, sloppy play, missed defensive assignments,” he added, “some of the things that were happening earlier in the year came back to haunt us in this game.”
Irving answered for BU with a runner in the paint, but Fraser sandwiched a bank-in 17-footer and another jump hook around Pollard’s 12-foot jumper from the lane as UMaine went ahead 59-55 with 1:08 left.
“Maturity,” Fraser said was the key to the Bears’ strong finish. “The fact that other teams can go on runs like that and we can just go, all right, we’re going to lock them down, we’re going to get a stop, is huge.”
The Bears went 4-for-7 from the foul line to secure the victory.
Dom Morris grabbed 11 rebounds for BU, which shot 44 percent for the game but committed nine of its 13 turnovers in the second half. UMaine shot 47 percent overall, including 54 percent in the final 20 minutes.
Little was decided in the first half, which ended with the teams deadlocked at 26-26.
The Bears did a good job slowing BU with their man-to-man defense, which had to work hard to contain speedy guards D.J. Irving and Travis Robinson. UMaine also outrebounded BU 15-10, limiting second shots.
The Terriers switched back and forth between man-to-man and a 2-3 zone, but maintained a focus on helping out in the paint. UMaine tried to get the ball inside to Fraser, but most often he was catching the ball a bit farther outside his comfort zone than usual.
BU also effectively contained penetration by Edwards and Pollard, who didn’t get to the rim off the dribble on more than a couple of occasions.
The Bears’ desire to force the issue in the lane led to a handful of their seven turnovers.
The Terriers used a 12-4 surge to take a 24-17 lead at the 7:40 mark of the half. The run included two 3-pointers by Travis Robinson and BU attacked effectively in transition.
UMaine responded by outscoring the Terriers 9-2 over the last seven minutes of the period. Edwards, who was relatively quiet on the offensive end, hit a 3-pointer and sank two foul shots down the stretch to get even before the break.