ORONO, Maine — The University of Hartford bottled up Alasdair Fraser and got the University of Maine’s junior forward in foul trouble Wednesday night.
The Black Bears were able to pick up the slack from the perimeter.
Zarko Valjarevic and Justin Edwards each buried two 3-pointers in the final 4:06 to keep the game close, then Edwards tipped in the game-winner with 0.7 seconds left to lift UMaine to a 66-64 America East men’s basketball victory at Alfond Arena.
“It’s certainly a nice sign seeing them grow up a little bit like that tonight,” said UMaine coach Ted Woodward, whose team previously had lost two conference games on last-second 3-pointers.
“I thought we responded, even though we had some situations that we felt were going against us,” he said.
Valjarevic made four 3-pointers and Edwards hit three more to help the Black Bears (10-15, 5-7 AE) earn their second straight win and improve to 8-3 at home this season.
“They hit four 3’s in the last six minutes and they were 8 of 24 [for the game],” said Hartford coach John Gallagher. “That’s 12 points in a two-point game.”
UMaine overcame its 18 turnovers, which led to 20 Hartford points, by shooting 51 percent from the floor overall (24-for-47) and outrebounding the Hawks (14-11, 7-5 AE) 32-21.
There was plenty of drama in the last five minutes, especially at the end.
Hartford’s Wes Cole buried his second 3-pointer in a span of 18 seconds from the right corner to tie the game 64-64 with 30 seconds remaining. UMaine held for a last shot.
As the clock ticked down, Edwards dribbled down the right side of the lane looking to give the Bears the lead.
“I was trying to drive, but he [a defender] stopped me and I tried to just fake him and go into him and get the foul, but the refs didn’t call it,” Edwards explained.
He threw up a shot that caromed to the left side of the basket and teammate Mike Allison knocked it back across the rim. Edwards was there for the tip-in.
“We know if we shoot, we have lots of athletic guys that can get to the glass and get rebounds,” Edwards said, “so we just kept attacking the glass and luckily we got a putback.”
Edwards finished with a game-high 18 points, eight rebounds and five assists. Valjarevic, who was 4-for-9 from the 3-point arc, tallied 17 points. Fraser finished with nine points and three assists, while the Bears got a lift from freshman guard Dimitry Akanda-Coronel.
He posted seven points to help UMaine overcome the absence of junior guard Jon Mesghna (illness) and senior guard Jon McAllian of Bangor (injury).
The Hawks, who came in having won three straight and four of their last five, slip to 14-11, 7-5 in league play.
Mark Nwakamma led Hartford, which had won three in a row and four of its previous five, with 17 points and eight rebounds. Yolonzo Moore II contributed 14 points as the Hawks shot 46 percent (21-for-46) and went 10-for-20 on 3-pointers.
“They defended well and I credit Ted and his staff for a great defensive game plan,” Gallagher said.
Hartford appeared ready to gain the upper hand when Moore, Evan Cooper and Nate Sikma hit 3-pointers during a span of 1:14 to give the Hawks a 50-45 lead with 7:02 left.
UMaine responded with an 11-4 burst sparked by Edwards. The Hawks led 52-50 at the 4:06 mark when Edwards swished a 3-pointer off an Xavier Pollard feed to put the Bears on top.
After Nwakamma made two foul shots, Edwards calmly sank another 3.
“Most teams are going to collapse on me when I drive because they know that’s my strength,” Edwards offered, “so just being able to hit the open 3 and knock down shots from outside helps a lot.”
Cooper sank two free throws for Hartford before Valjarevic got the hot hand. He sandwiched 3-pointers 43 seconds apart around a Nwakamma bucket during a 7-2 burst that gave UMaine a 63-58 lead with 56.9 seconds to play.
“I was struggling the first half, obviously, but I just keep shooting the ball and the second half at one point Justin keep us in the game with some 3’s and after that I got some 3’s, too,” Valjarevic said.
Hartford held a 34-30 lead at halftime after hitting five 3-pointers and coming up with nine UMaine turnovers.
The Hawks successfully attacked UMaine’s man-to-man defense with good passing and crisp cuts to the basket that led to eight points from Oren Faulk and seven by Nwakamma.
UMaine also is going to have a new America East opponent in the near future. Sources confirmed a published report that the University of Massachusetts Lowell will be joining the conference.
America East is expected to made the formal announcement on Thursday. UMass Lowell competes in Division II with the exception of ice hockey, where it is a Division I member of Hockey East, the league in which UMaine competes.
The addition of the River Hawks will bring the number of teams in America East to nine, as Boston University is departing for the Patriot League for 2013-14.