ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine found out last month that University at Albany guards Mike Black and Jacob Iati could dominate a game.
On Saturday afternoon, the Black Bears made sure their focus was on defending those players.
UMaine locked down on defense, limiting the Great Danes’ talented guard duo to 21 points on 27 percent shooting, to set the tone for a 66-52 America East victory at Alfond Arena.
“I thought we had everybody on the same page defensively throughout the course of the game,” said UMaine coach Ted Woodward. “I thought we stayed consistent with that and that’s going to take you to a lot of success.”
A solid crowd braved the blizzard conditions to attend the game, including a good group of UMaine students.
The Black Bears (9-15, 4-7 AE), who snapped a four-game losing streak, held the Great Danes (18-8, 7-5 AE) to 35 percent shooting, including 28 percent in the first half.
Albany was wrapping up a tough travel week. It flew to Baltimore on Tuesday and played UMBC on Wednesday, then flew back to Albany on Thursday. The Great Danes attended classes, practiced, then bused to Orono, arriving Friday at 1:30 a.m.
UMaine’s man-to-man defense also helped force 18 turnovers, nine of which were made by Black and Iati. Black, who scored a career-high 28 points in Albany’s Jan. 12 win over the Bears at Albany, was the focal point.
“Last game, Black made a comment about he wished he could play Maine every day because he’d average 30 points,” said UMaine sophomore Xavier Pollard, who guarded Black much of the game. “So going into this game, me and coach discussed the game plan and my main focus was to shut him down today.”
Pollard registered seven points, eight assists and four rebounds.
Guards Justin Edwards (16 points), Bangor’s Jon McAllian (10 points), Shaun Lawton and Zarko Valjarevic (13 points) also contributed to the defensive effort on the perimeter. Alasdair Fraser netted 11 points with five rebounds and Mike Allison registered nine points, 12 rebounds and four blocked shots.
Sam Rowley logged a double-double for Albany with a game-high 19 points and 15 rebounds along with five steals and four assists.
“I think the guards did a really good job on Iati and Black, locking them down, forcing them into help,” Allison said. “I think I could have done a better job on No. 14 [Rowley].”
UMaine used its defense to build a 15-point lead in the first half. The Bears held Albany to two points during a span of 9 1/2 minutes to fuel an extended 13-2 run.
McAllian sparked the offense at the front end of the run, sticking 3-pointers 1:12 apart. Rowley scored off a loose ball underneath for Albany’s only points during the key stretch, but the Bears responded.
Pollard hit a 3-pointer, then hustled down an offensive rebound and drove the baseline for a basket. Fraser followed with a short shot from the lane to make it 26-11 with 6:48 to play in the half.
“My offense has been struggling lately, so I’ve been going into games just focusing on my defense so I can help my team that way,” McAllian said. “Tonight, my offense came to me naturally and it was my teammates getting me open.”
The Bears led 31-18 at halftime, but the Great Danes shook their first-half offensive doldrums.
Rowley scored six points to lead a 10-1 spurt that got Albany within six points at 38-32 with 13:21 remaining. The Great Danes could not get any closer.
Edwards keyed UMaine’s final offensive surge, sandwiching a driving finger roll and a fast-break dunk off a Lawton steal around a 12-foot jumper by Valjarevic to give the Bears a 48-36 advantage with 7:45 to play.
“We didn’t really have a lot of sloppy offensive possessions,” Woodward said. “I thought we did a good job controlling the basketball and some plays that went right down to the end of the shot clock and we really executed well.”
UMaine was able to continue holding Albany in check and clinched the win from the foul line, where it wound up 15-for-24 (63 percent).
McAllian was a key factor coming off the bench, adding three rebounds, an assist and two steals to his scoring output.
“I thought he did a tremendous job,” Woodward said. “He hit some big shots and made some big plays for us today.”
The Bears established their first-half lead while the Danes shot 7-for-25, including 2-for-6 from the 3-point arc.
UMaine exhibited good balance on offense, shooting 44 percent with the help of 6-for-11 accuracy from long range.
“We got off to a great start shooting the basketball and we were able to keep the perimeter guys balanced throughout the course of the game,” Woodward said.