ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine was “zoned out” Saturday afternoon.
The Black Bears scored 13 points below their season average against a cohesive 2-3 zone defense that paved the way for Binghamton University’s 57-56 America East men’s basketball victory at Memorial Gym.
Jimmy Gray buried a 3-pointer with 3.4 seconds remaining to lift the last-place Bearcats (3-16, 1-5 AE) to victory.
“He’s made big shots in this program before and that was one he’ll always remember,” said Binghamton coach Tommy Dempsey, whose team snapped a 12-game losing streak.
The Bearcats (3-16, 1-5 AE) used an active zone defense to shut down the league’s top-scoring offense (68.2 points per game).
It was the third straight loss for coach Ted Woodward’s Black Bears (7-11, 2-3 AE), who shot only 23 percent (6-for-26) from 3-point range and were not able to break down the zone off the dribble.
“Today our shots just weren’t falling and when our shots don’t fall and they’re playing zone, it’s kind of hard to score a lot,” said UMaine sophomore Justin Edwards.
Jordan Reed paced the Bearcats with 20 points and 10 rebounds, while Gray finished with 14 points, including four 3-pointers. Javon Ralling added nine points and six rebounds.
Binghamton shot 57 percent (16-for-28) from the field in the second half and shot 43 percent for the game.
“On defense, we just did not get stops,” Woodward said.
Edwards paced the Black Bears with 12 points, six rebounds, three assists and two steals. Mike Allison contributed nine points and seven rebounds and Alasdair Fraser posted eight points and six rebounds.
The Bearcats effectively double-teamed in the post and clogged up the paint, discouraging dribble-penetration by the Bears, who couldn’t find their long-range shooting touch.
“When we’re not hitting [outside] shots and they’re in a zone, then they can do that,” Fraser said of sagging into the lane. “So until we start hitting shots, which would have got them out of the zone and then they have to play our perimeter players.”
UMaine led by as many as 12 points (44-32), but Binghamton rattled off a 16-3 second-half surge to take its first lead (48-47) on a Javon Ralling close-range basket with 5:04 to play.
The lead changed hands five times after that.
UMaine grabbed a 54-52 edge when Fraser hit a 17-footer from the baseline with 1:01 left, but the Bearcats countered on Reed’s 13-footer from the lane with 41.6 to play. Fraser responded for the Bears when he tipped in an Edwards miss with 8.6 seconds remaining.
Binghamton inbounded and had a timeout available, but Dempsey preferred to take an aggressive approach.
“I told them, ‘just take it and attack, don’t be looking for me to call timeout’ and if I didn’t like what I saw, I would pull the trigger on a timeout,” said Dempsey, who was tempted to do so.
“I was thinking about calling it and running a sideline out of bounds play, but before I call it, he [Gray] raised up and he made the coach look like a smart guy for not calling it,” he added.
With no timeouts left, the Bears had to settle for Jon Mesghna’s desperation half-court shot, which ricocheted off the backboard and the rim as time expired.
“We did not do a good job on the defensive end,” Woodward said. “It’s been a concern of ours, really, throughout the season.”
Binghamton, which committed 12 turnovers that led to 16 UMaine points in the first half, had only four in the second half. The Bearcats also outrebounded the Bears 41-35.
Despite getting only six minutes out of Fraser (two fouls), the Black Bears built a 32-21 halftime lead.
UMaine shot a solid 38 percent (12-for-32) while showing good patience against Binghamton’s 2-3 zone, which bottled up the paint effectively most of the half.
The Bears countered with a good defensive effort in their man-to-man alignment, holding the Bearcats to 29 percent (7-for-26) shooting from the floor.
Binghamton did grab a 23-18 rebounding edge, but was hampered by its miscues.
Leading 14-13, the Bears grabbed the upper hand with a 12-0 scoring run. It was jumpstarted by Edwards’ two-handed, behind-the-head dunk off a baseline cut and an alley-oop pass from Xavier Pollard (7 assists).
The play awakened the crowd and provided some emotion upon which UMaine capitalized. Allison scored off his own miss, then Fraser converted a pass to the post from Pollard with a left-handed shot to make it 20-13 at the 7:42 mark.
All three of those hoops came on the heels of Binghamton turnovers.
UMaine kept the surge going with two foul shots and a 16-footer in transition by Till Gloger and Edwards’ eight-foot runner from the lane that made it 26-13 with 5:11 left in the half.
Binghamton outscored UMaine 44-30 the rest of the way.