BANGOR, Maine — With the new year comes renewed optimism for the University of Maine men’s basketball team.
The Black Bears demonstrated excellent chemistry and outstanding offensive balance Sunday evening, opening their America East schedule with an 82-66 victory over Binghamton University at the Cross Insurance Center.
Coach Ted Woodward’s ballclub (3-10) built a 21-point halftime lead, then fended off a second-half challenge by the Bearcats (3-11) to start 2014 on a positive note. It was the second win in the last three games for UMaine.
“It’s a fresh start now in conference play and we have great confidence,” said junior Kilian Cato, who paced the well-rounded UMaine offense with 17 points.
A crowd of 2,474 turned out to see at least one of the games in the doubleheader during which Yale beat the UMaine women 86-85.
While the Black Bears played well on offense, it was their defense that set the tone. The 66 points allowed were a season low against a Division I opponent.
UMaine tried to maintain a defensive presence throughout, utilizing a 2-2-1 full-court press, some half-court trapping and an active 2-3 zone that had Binghamton out of sync.
“I thought it was a very good defensive effort, in particular, and a good effort on the glass, two areas that we need to address,” Woodward said.
The Bears held the Bearcats to 37 percent shooting overall, including 4-for-24 shooting from the 3-point arc.
“We didn’t give up that many second shots, which is huge for us,” Woodward added. “And we’ve been working hard on defense.”
UMaine’s quick feet and active hands played a role in Binghamton’s 19 turnovers, 13 of which came during the first half.
Sophomore Dimitry Akanda-Coronel registered a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds for Maine. Zarko Valjarevic tallied 14 points with four 3-pointers and Troy Reid-Knight finished with 10 points. Xavier Pollard chipped in with eight points, eight assists and five steals and Ethan Mackey added eight points and eight rebounds.
The hosts had a 47-43 rebounding edge and outscored Binghamton 40-30 in the paint.
Binghamton was led by Jordan Reed’s game-high 20 points and 15 rebounds. Magnus Richards posted seven points and seven rebounds.
The Black Bears capitalized on their transition prowess to manufacture a 49-28 halftime lead. UMaine hit six 3-pointers and shot 56 percent (20-for-36) overall while limiting Binghamton to 11-for-32 (34 percent) shooting.
The Bearcats committed 13 turnovers that led to 18 points for the Bears.
“We were turning it over quite a bit in the first half which I thought led to a lot of open looks at the other end,” said Binghamton coach Tommy Dempsey. “It’s hard to play transition defense against your turnovers.”
UMaine put together a decisive 16-2 burst midway through the half. Shaun Lawton (6 points, 4 assists) got things started, making a 10-foot floater and converting a fast-break layup off a Pollard assist, both off Binghamton turnovers.
Valjarevic took over from there, knocking down a 3-pointer in transition, burying a 28-foot bomb and snipping a 14-footer from the baseline to make it 23-14. Roland Brown broke the skein with a foul-line turnaround for the Bearcats, but Mackey scored underneath off a Reid-Knight feed, then followed with an offensive rebound hoop that gave the Bears a 27-16 lead with 7:10 to play in the half.
Cato made three 3-pointers on his way to a team-high 13 points in the half, while Valjarevic finished the period with 11 points for UMaine, which scored 26 points in the paint.
“It’s all about confidence,” Akanda-Coronel said of UMaine’s stellar half. “When Kilian has an open shot, he shoots it. He’s always confidence. I build off of that and I see everybody else building off of that, too.”
UMaine returns to action Thursday night at Hartford.