ORONO, Maine — Tight situations seem to bring out the best in this season’s University of Maine men’s basketball team.
Saturday afternoon, with the University of Maryland Baltimore County making a comeback bid, the Black Bears closed the door.
UMaine outscored the Retrievers 17-5 in the last four minutes, pulling away for an 81-66 America East victory at Alfond Arena.
Coach Ted Woodward’s Black Bears (7-8 overall, 2-0 AE) posted their fourth consecutive victory with a well-rounded effort that included numerous quality contributions.
“To have five guys in double figures, 21 assists and multiple guys with five or more rebounds, that’s a good team win,” Woodward said.
UMaine had occasional difficulty operating against UMBC’s aggressive man-to-man defense and committed 18 turnovers that led to 20 points by the Retrievers (2-13, 0-2 AE). However, the Bears shot 59 percent from the floor to help overcome their miscues.
“That’s where they got a lot of their turnovers, on really hard ball pressure, getting away with a little bit, then digging at the rebounds,” said UMaine senior Mike Allison, who logged a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds. “We need to be stronger with the ball.”
Alasdair Fraser (6 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocked shots) and Justin Edwards (5 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals) scored 17 points each for the Bears but also combined for 14 turnovers. Jon Mesghna (5 rebounds) connected for 12 of his 16 points in the first half, while Xavier Pollard posted 10 points, seven assists and three steals.
UMaine shot 59 percent from the floor (31-for-53), outscored UMBC 15-7 from the foul line and outrebounded the visitors 39-25.
Chase Plummer paced the Retrievers with 14 points and nine rebounds. Brett Roseboro tallied 12 points and Ryan Cook tossed in 10.
UMBC trailed most of the way, but refused to go quietly. Cook and Brian Neller buried back-to-back 3-pointers during a span of 36 seconds as the Retrievers slashed a 12-point deficit to 64-61 with 4:19 remaining.
UMaine answered authoritatively.
First, Allison swooped down the lane to snatch a Pollard miss out of the air and hammer it through with a one-handed dunk to energize the Black Bears and the crowd.
Edwards then came up with a steal and attacked the basket, converting a spin move in the paint with a two-handed dunk that restored the lead to 68-61 with 3:34 to play.
“They’ve been doing a great job to make plays in critical situations,” Woodward said of his players.
UMBC got one more 3-pointer from Neller, but the Bears scored 13 of the next 15 points to put the game out of reach.
The first half featured some well-executed offense by both squads and it was the Bears who emerged with a 37-29 lead.
Mesghna was the offensive catalyst during a 14-0 burst that helped the Bears erase a 25-19 deficit and build an eight-point advantage during a span of only 3:10.
The junior college transfer from Germany went 4-for-4 from the field, including three 3-pointers, in the half.
Mesghna got the run started by sticking a 3-pointer from the left corner, then picked his team up after back-to-back turnovers by Edwards with another 3.
“That’s one of my roles on this team, to make my open shots,” Mesghna said. “Thanks to my teammates, I made them today. They gave me a heck of a [lot of] good passes and it was a great team effort.”
Two UMBC turnovers led to Edwards’ hoop from underneath off a loose rebound, then a falling eight-footer by Mesghna on the front end of a conventional three-point play.
Mesghna punctuated the run with a long 3-pointer from the top of the key off a kickout pass from Fraser to make it 33-25 wth 3:40 left in the half.
The Bears did a better job defensively in the last seven minutes of the half, demonstrating good help in their man-to-man. The result was five late turnovers by the Retrievers, who committed eight in the half.
UMaine had raced to 14-6 lead during the game’s first six minutes as Fraser connected for the first seven points and Edwards added five, including a monster, two-handed dunk off a feed from Pollard on a baseline cut.
However, UMBC responded with a 9-0 flurry to take the lead and went up by as many as six points (25-19) before Mesghna’s shooting exhibition.