ALBANY, N.Y. — The University of Maine men’s basketball team turned in one of its best defensive performances of the season in Saturday night’s America East quarterfinal against Albany.
The Black Bears simply weren’t able to generate quite enough offense to take advantage of the effort.
Sam Rowley scored 10 of his game-high 19 points in the last seven minutes, including the go-ahead basket with 19 seconds left, to lift the fourth-seeded Great Danes to a 50-49 victory over the No. 5 Black Bears at partisan SEFCU Arena.
“I thought Maine was as dangerous as anybody in this conference tournament,” said Albany coach Will Brown.
“We didn’t play well, but we were resilient,” he added. “We fought, we scraped, we clawed and we rode the back of the best non-all-conference player in the America East in Sam Rowley, who was absolutely outstanding.”
With dynamic guards Jacob Iati (11 points) and Mike Black (9) held in check and unable to provide a 3-point presence, the Australian’s slippery inside play sparked Albany (22-10) into the semifinals, where it will face No. 1 Stony Brook on Sunday.
UMaine closed out the season at 11-19, suffering its eighth consecutive postseason defeat under head coach Ted Woodward.
“I thought we really deserved to win the basketball game,” Woodward said. “Give Albany credit, obviously they came up with big plays when they needed to, but I’m extremely proud of how our guys played throughout the course of the game. Obviously, we’re extremely disappointed that it’s not going to show on the scoreboard.”
Albany turned the tide with its own gritty second-half defense, which included man-to-man, some full-court pressure and well-timed trapping. The hosts held the Black Bears to 16 points on 32 percent (6-for-19) shooting over the final 20 minutes.
UMaine also committed 11 of its 17 turnovers in the second half.
Albany emerged with a 13-4 advantage at the foul line and was whistled for nine fouls in the contest compared to 22 for the Bears.
Rowley and John Puk pulled down eight rebounds each for the winners, who grabbed a 32-28 edge. The Great Danes went 3-for-9 from the 3-point line and shot only 34 percent for the game.
“The defensive scheme was to stop Iati and Black. That just was our main focus going in, just play good defense,” said sophomore point guard Xavier Pollard, who guarded Black most of the night.
UMaine was led by sophomore guard Justin Edwards, who finished with 18 points, seven rebounds and three assists. Pollard posted 13 points and six rebounds, but had no assists.
The Bears received only seven points and eight rebounds from its three post players as foul-plagued junior Alasdair Fraser played only 28 minutes before fouling out late.
UMaine, which shot 47 percent overall (20-for-43), was 5-for-15 from the 3-point arc, including 0-for-6 after intermission.
Albany, which trailed by as many as 13 points in the first half, used an extended 18-5 run to swing the momentum in its favor.
UMaine went 2-for-10 from the floor and committed nine turnovers during the span, which covered 13 1/2 minutes.
“We kept wanting to attack the basket. That was a big key for us,” Woodward said. “We hit a drought and we just weren’t able to get to the free-throw line until two minutes left in the game.
“We just couldn’t get ourselves into the bonus quick enough to be able to get some of those situations to help us break it [the drought],” he added.
Rowley made four foul shots in a span of nine seconds to give the hosts their first lead of the game (46-44) with 2:25 to play.
UMaine answered with two Pollard free throws, before Edwards tipped in his own miss to put the Bears on top 48-46 with 1:27 left.
Rowley countered with a close-range bucket, then senior Mike Allison made the first of two free throws at the 47-second mark to make it 49-48 UMaine.
Again, Rowley converted from underneath with 19 seconds remaining to put Albany ahead for good.
“I thought we did a solid job on him, but obviously he made some key plays down the stretch,” Woodward said. “The last couple shots, I thought he made tough shots.”
The Bears called timeout, but Edwards missed a wild shot from the lane. Rowley rebounded, was fouled and wound up missing two foul shots with six seconds left.
Jon McAllian rebounded and got the ball to Edwards, whose 15-footer runner from the right side missed as time expired.
“I don’t know what else to do. I thought they were all good [shots], but obviously when I’m going to the basket hard and not getting calls, it doesn’t work out your way,” Edwards said.
Allison was a disruptive force on the defensive end, for UMaine.
The Bears received numerous bench contributions while building a 33-24 halftime lead.
UMaine shot 58 percent (14-for-24) from the field and played good man-to-man defense with some tenacious play close to the basket from Allison, who blocked four shots.
The Bears hit five 3-pointers, including two by Edwards, to help overcome limited success in the paint. Fraser logged only 12 minutes, picking up two fouls.