ORONO, Maine — It covered 15 games and nine weeks.
Finally, on Saturday afternoon, the University of Maine women’s basketball team ended its confidence-crushing losing streak.
The Black Bears built a sizeable early lead, extended it in the second half, then withstood a late challenge to earn a 67-51 America East women’s basketball victory in front of an appreciative crowd of 1,311 at Alfond Arena.
“It was just like a release of emotions,” said Corinne Wellington, UMaine’s only senior. “I’m pretty sure that we all have been waiting for this win and we got it, so we just celebrated together.”
Coach Richard Barron’s team (2-18, 1-6 AE) enjoyed its first victory since Nov. 17 by reaching out to its fans. As the pep band played “The Stein Song,” Black Bear players went into the crowd to say thank you with handshakes and hugs.
“It’s a great relief, like a weight off our shoulders,” said freshman Liz Wood, who was UMaine’s catalyst with 12 points, nine rebounds, five assists, four steals and two blocked shots.
“We’ve been working hard every day,” she continued. “We knew it was coming and it’s just great that we had such a big crowd here today. Everyone’s still supporting us through our drought and I’m glad we got a win for them.”
The Bears avoided tying the program’s longest losing streak of 16 games set during the 2008-2009 season.
“It feels great to get a win,” Barron said. “I thought we did a lot of things well today, especially in terms of securing the ball in rebounds.”
UMaine outrebounded Stony Brook (11-9, 3-4 AE) 45-31 to help slow the Seawolves’ transition attack.
UMaine exhibited outstanding balance and placed four players in double figures. Junior Ashleigh Roberts finished with a team-high 14 points, including 8-for-8 foul shooting in the second half.
The Bears converted 19 of 20 free throws.
Sophomore Danielle Walczak posted her first career double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds, along with three steals. Wellington chipped in with 12 points and nine rebounds and was a strong presence on the boards.
“We went after the ball with two hands today,” Barron said. “We just didn’t lose rebounds very often and that was a big difference in the game for us today.”
UMaine shot 43 percent overall and 47 percent (9-for-19) in the second half. The Bears implemented a 2-3 zone defense most of the game that effectively held Stony Brook in check.
Dani Klupenger made four 3-pointers and led Stony Brook with 14 points. Jessica Previlon netted 12 points, Sabre Proctor scored 10 and Chikilra Goodman chipped in with nine points, seven assists and four steals.
The Black Bears built their confidence early, manufacturing a 17-point lead. The hosts extended the advantage to 23 points in the second half before repelling a Stony Brook comeback attempt.
UMaine dominated the first half with sound offensive execution, strong defense and tenacious rebounding, along with some help from the Seawolves.
Stony Brook shot only 20 percent (6-for-30) and committed nine turnovers in the half.
The Bears were able to capitalize on several transition opportunities by attacking the basket and also ran their half-court offense efficiently in the face of Stony Brook’s man-to-man defensive pressure.
UMaine went 14-for-35 from the field, despite 1-for-9 shooting from the 3-point arc.
UMaine surged ahead with a 12-0 burst that it turned into an 18-2 run.
With the Bears down 5-4, Wood got things rolling with a runner from the paint, then made a steal that led to a 16-footer by Roberts, who converted another SBU turnover with an offensive rebound hoop.
Wood scored back-to-back baskets, the first off a Walczak steal and a Courtney Anderson feed and the other off an Anderson assist, after a steal by Mikaela Gustafsson. Roberts capped the burst with a driving layup that gave UMaine a 16-5 lead with 9:14 to play in the half.
“Unfortunately, what really I think got their offense going in the first half was the amount of offensive rebounds they got,” said SBU coach Beth O’Boyle.
“I think it was our turnovers that really initiated their break,” she added.
The Bears twice extended the advantage to as many as 17 points.
The Seawolves tried to press their way back into the game, but were unable to overcome a 23-point (42-19) deficit. UMaine committed 14 second-half turnovers, but did not fold.
Goodman’s 3-pointer with 2:14 left got Stony Brook within 57-48, but the Bears went 10-for-10 from the foul line down the stretch, including six by Roberts.
“I think that’s what’s killed us in previous games,” Wood explained. “We have the lead and we feel like ‘oh, no, it’s going to slip away again.’ I think today we played better playing to win instead of trying not to let them come back and I think that helped us a lot.”