BANGOR, Maine — The University of Maine men’s basketball team is heading into the postseason on a high note.
The Black Bears hounded the University of New Hampshire with trapping, full-court pressure and placed five players in double figures to eke out a 73-69 America East victory Sunday at the Cross Insurance Center.
“We just wanted to sweep UNH, honestly,” said sophomore guard Shaun Lawton. “They’re our rivals and we’re always fired up when we play them, so we wanted to go out with a bang.”
Coach Ted Woodward’s team (6-22, 4-12 AE), which snapped a six-game losing streak, is the No. 7 seed and faces No. 2 Stony Brook (21-9, 13-3 AE) in a 6 p.m. Saturday quarterfinal at SEFCU Arena in Albany, N.Y.
“It’s a big challenge ahead of us,” Woodward said. “We played them well here last week. You’ve got to beat good teams to be where you want to be.”
Stony Brook swept the regular-season series.
Eighth seed UNH (6-23, 4-12 AE) meets No. 1 Vermont at noon Saturday.
UMaine’s tireless diamond-and-1 pressure hounded the Wildcats into 18 turnovers, which led to 21 points for the Bears.
“We’ve got a lot of quick, long guards, so it causes havoc for opposing guards,” Lawton said. “We try to force turnovers and (make things) helter-skelter.”
UMaine held UNH to seven field goals on 33 percent shooting in the second half after the Wildcats shot 48 percent in the first half.
Lawton made six of the Bears’ nine steals and was among five double-figure scorers with 12 points. Guards Troy Reid-Knight (15 points, 9 assists, 0 turnovers) and Xavier Pollard (10 points, 2 steals) also were defensive stalwarts.
Sophomore post player Till Gloger logged a double-double for UMaine with 15 points and a game-high 14 rebounds, while Marko Pirovic added 13 points. The Bears went 29-for-36 from the foul line.
“There was lots of ups and downs, so we had to talk about getting a stop every, single possession,” Reid-Knight said.
“We showed that we’re here to fight and we’re a good basketball team when we really put our minds to it and play 40 minutes,” he added.
Jordon Bronner (4 assists) made five 3-pointers on his way to a game-high 24 points, while Jaleen Smith and Chris Pelcher provided 12 points each for UNH. Tommy McDonnell hustled his way to 8 points, 12 rebounds, three assists and two steals.
UMaine, which trailed 11-0, was down 12 points early in the second half but rallied.
Gloger scored seven points to spark a key 14-7 run, which included a 3-pointer and a fast-break dunk by Dimitry Akanda-Coronel. Lawton’s driving layup made it 61-61 with 7:39 left.
UMaine later closed it out with a 10-4 surge. Pirovic had a three-point play, then Pollard hit an eight-footer. UNH”s Jacoby Armstrong (7 points, 6 rebounds) countered with a foul-line jumper, but Pollard sank a free throw and Lawton made a steal and scoop shot to put the Bears up 71-67 with 1:35 to play.
UNH could manage only two Smith foul shots the rest of the way.
“We had really good chemistry today, tried to share the ball,” Reid-Knight said.
“I think playing well on defense affected our offense and we really trusted each other,” he added.
Bronner’s half-court runner at the buzzer sent the Wildcats into the locker room with a 45-35 lead. UNH had scored the first 11 points of the contest.
The Bears eventually got results from their press and scored 17 points from the foul line in the half.
“I think the difference today was our fouling in the first half and them getting to the free-throw line at the rate that they did was huge,” said UNH coach Bill Herrion. “Our turnovers killed us in the first half.”