BANGOR, Maine — The University of Massachusetts Lowell isn’t playing as though it has just joined the Division I ranks.
Thursday night, America East’s newest member demonstrated its considerable skills by taking a 74-62 men’s basketball victory over the University of Maine at the Cross Insurance Center.
Antonio Bivins unloaded five slam dunks on his way to a game-best 25 points and grabbed eight rebounds as the River Hawks (5-13) improved to 4-3 in conference play and ended a two-game skid.
He and fellow senior Akeem Williams (11 points, 4 assists) were among the mainstays for UMass Lowell.
“Our guys have always believed, but they’re really starting to play with some confidence, that they can win in this league,” said UML coach Pat Duquette.
“Whether we’re new to this league or not, I’ve got three really good, experienced seniors and that that helps a lot,” he added.
Coach Ted Woodward’s team (3-15, 1-5 AE) suffered its fifth consecutive loss after failing to make plays at either end during the last five minutes of the contest.
The Black Bears were unable to limit UML’s penetration all night and the visitors took advantage while outscoring UMaine 32-20 in the paint.
Meanwhile, UMaine was unable to establish much offensive continuity against UML’s man-to-man. The Bears shot 42 percent from the floor, but committed 16 turnovers.
They went 4-for-21 (19 percent) from the 3-point arc.
“Give them credit. In particular, the kid inside [Bivins] stepped up, had a great game for them, made a couple key shots down the stretch and certainly came up with some big rebounds [in] the second half,” Woodward said.
The River Hawks received 12 points and six assists from Chad Holley. They outrebounded the Bears 39-27.
Junior point guard Xavier Pollard paced UMaine with 15 points, five assists and two steals. Junior Kilian Cato tossed in 14 points, while Till Gloger logged 12 points and Troy Reid-Knight contributed 10 points and four assists.
UML grabbed the upper hand during a critical two-minute stretch late in the second half. With the game tied 54-all after Pollard snipped a 10-foot jumper, the River Hawks embarked on an 8-0 run.
Bivins got it started with two free throws (UML went 18-for-20 from the line), then Pollard committed a turnover after Ethan Mackey rebounded a missed foul shot by Reid-Knight. Shaun Lawton came up with a steal, but UMaine failed to convert when Zarko Valjarevic (no points) missed a 3-pointer.
“They played the ball screen pretty well,” Reid-Knight said. “At the end they just started switching because they expected us to shoot a 3, so I tried to drag it out as much as I can, drag it back and go through the motion [offense].”
Mark Cornelius sank two free throws the next trip for UML, before Williams scored from the lane after a Reid-Knight turnover. Then, after Pollard missed both ends of a double bonus, Holley hit two foul shots to give the River Hawks a 62-54 lead with 3:42 remaining.
“We’re disappointed,” Woodward said. “The game teetered the last six or seven minutes or so. We had trouble making a couple shots and had some good looks that, unfortunately, didn’t go down.”
Cato hit a fast-break layup on the front end of a conventional three-point play to cut the deficit to five with 2:53 left, but a missed 3-pointer and another turnover opened the door for two buckets by Bivins, including his final dunk, as UML put it out of reach.
Little was decided during a first half that ended with the Black Bears leading 33-29.
UMaine led by as many as seven points in the period, while UML owned an early five-point edge, but neither team could build a comfortable cushion.
Both clubs settled for a lot of 3-point shots, with the visitors going 0-for-10 and the Bears hitting 3 of 11. The River Hawks grabbed a 17-15 rebounding edge and each team committed eight turnovers.
Pollard was the offensive catalyst coming off the bench for UMaine as he scored 11 points in 16 minutes of action. Cato hit two 3-pointers on his way to eight points.
Bivins headed the charge for UML, throwing down three dunks, including two on consecutive possessions, to post 10 points.
The River Hawks scored the first five points of the contest as the squads seemed to be going through a feeling-out period.
UMaine responded first with a 12-2 burst, then answered a 4-0 UML run (the two Bivins dunks) with a 9-0 flurry to take an 18-11 lead with 11:11 to play.