Defense has been a challenge all season for the University of Maine men’s basketball team.
On Saturday night, Stony Brook made sure the Black Bears also would have difficulty on the offensive end of the floor.
The second-seeded Seawolves limited the league’s top-scoring offense to a season-low 31 percent shooting, laying the groundwork for a comfortable 80-54 quarterfinal victory over seventh-seeded UMaine at SEFCU Arena in Albany, N.Y.
“That’s probably one of the toughest offensive performances we’ve had, but give them credit, they physically took us out of a lot of things that we’ve been doing and really wanted to do throughout the course of of the game,” said UMaine head coach Ted Woodward.
Stony Brook advances to Sunday’s 7:15 p.m. semifinal against the winner of Saturday’s late game between No. 3 Hartford and No. 6 Binghamton.
UMaine winds up 6-23, the program’s fewest wins since the 1956-57 season. It also was the ninth consecutive postseason loss for UMaine under Woodward’s leadership, with the last win coming in a league quarterfinal over Boston University in 2005.
“Those things are out of my hands,” Woodward said when asked whether he was concerned about his future as the Bears’ coach.
“This has been a team that’s honestly been a tremendous pleasure to coach. I know we would have certainly liked to win some more games, but these guys come to work every single day. They work hard. They’ve got good chemistry.”
America East Player of the Year Jameel Warney headed Stony Brook’s well-rounded offense with 15 points, eight rebounds, four blocked shots and two steals. Carson Puriefoy posted 14 points, three assists and three assists, while Dave Coley netted 13 points with five rebounds and three steals.
Ahmad Walker (3 assists) and Rayshuan McGrew (9 rebounds) each added nine points to help the Seawolves shoot 43 percent (27-for-63) and make 22 of 29 free throws.
Stony Brook dominated play inside, outscoring UMaine 36-18 in the paint.
“They score layups a lot,” Woodward said. “They get them in transition, they get them off offensive rebounds. They get to the free-throw line a lot.”
Junior Xavier Pollard led the Black Bears with 11 points, four rebounds and two steals. Till Gloger (7 rebounds, 2 steals), Shaun Lawton (7 rebounds) and Troy Reid-Knight scored 10 points apiece. UMaine made 17 of 19 foul shots, but went 3-for-19 from 3-point range.
“We struggled,” Woodward said. “They had a lot to do with it. They were physical on our guards on the interior, they helped down on our posts. They had a lot of blocked shots.”
UMaine was held almost 19 points under its season average of 72.8 points per contest. The Black Bears were without injured junior guard Zarko Valjarevic, who was averaging 11.3 points per game and was shooting 44 percent from the 3-point arc.
“With Zarko being out, we didn’t have as much of a stretch threat to be able to open up some of the interior for us,” Woodward said.
UMaine also failed to take care of the ball and committed 12 of its 23 turnovers in the first half. Stony Brook cashed in by scoring 26 points as a result of those miscues.
The Seawolves took charge early and slowly pulled out to a 49-25 halftime advantage.
Stony Brook shot 49 percent from the field (16-for-33) and converted 15 of 19 free throws (79 percent). UMaine had 12 first-half turnovers and shot only 27 percent (7-for-26).
Leading 8-7, the Seawolves went on a 12-0 run to take the upper hand. Rayshuan McGrew got it started with a baseline move, then Coley made two free throws after a UMaine turnover. A miscue led to Warney’s bucket from the low post, then yet another turnover resulted in a 3-pointer by Kameron Mitchell.
Two McGrew foul shots and Puriefoy’s transition layup gave Stony Brook a 20-7 lead with 11:08 to play in the half.
“When you put that together with them getting in transition and getting some extra possessions, that’s a dangerous formula,” Woodward said of the turnovers.
The Black Bears’ struggles continued as they went 8 ½ minutes between field goals before Reid-Knight knocked down a 3-pointer at the 6:21 mark. Woodward said UMaine’s poor shooting made it almost impossible for the Bears to set up their defense.
The Seawolves continued to break down UMaine’s defensive efforts with their penetration moves and post entries and got to the foul line often.
“It’s very difficult to give a team like that a 10-, 15-point advantage and play uphill basketball,” Woodward said.
Stony Brook led by as many as 34 points early in the second half.
Correction: Saturday’s loss by UMaine was its ninth straight in the postseason.