BANGOR, Maine — Overmatched. That was the reality Thursday night for the University of Maine men’s basketball team.
A senior-laden University of Vermont team demonstrated its experience, talent and depth, using hard-nosed defense and unselfish offense to cruise to an 83-46 America East victory over the Black Bears at the Cross Insurance Center.
Coach John Becker’s Catamounts (9-8, 3-0 AE) established themselves at both ends of the floor from the outset, manufacturing a big early lead that resulted in a blowout. It was Vermont’s fifth consecutive win.
“I thought they proved why they were the preseason No. 1 pick,” said Maine coach Ted Woodward, whose team suffered its third loss in a row.
“They’ve got six seniors who’ve been through a lot together. They dominated every phase,” he added.
Vermont dictated play at both ends. Its man-to-man defense kept UMaine (3-13, 1-3 AE) bottled up inside and out.
The Catamounts focused considerable attention on Black Bears 3-point specialist Zarko Valjarevic and limited him to one shot attempt in 23 minutes.
“We wanted to key in on Zarko, run him off the 3-point line,” Becker said. “He didn’t get a 3 off today, which was a really good job by our team.”
UMaine, which went into the contest leading the conference in scoring at 76.7 points per game, was limited to 36 percent (16-for-45) shooting from the floor. The hosts managed only eight assists.
The Catamounts had limited Albany to 38 points in a Saturday victory.
“Everything starts with defense for us,” Becker said.
“Guys were really flying around and playing hard and playing smart, which is hard to do, especially for 40 minutes,” he added.
Vermont was equally impressive on offense. Working mostly against the Bears’ 2-3 zone in the first half, the visitors got the ball inside with regularity and also had a perimeter presence.
The Catamounts shot 59 percent (33-for-57) for the game and outrebounded UMaine 38-20.
Ethan O’Day, a 6-foot-9 forward, led a balanced effort for Vermont with 12 points, while Kurt Steidl (5 rebounds) and Hector Harold posted 10 points each. Ryan Pierson added nine points and Brian Voelkel contributed six points, eight rebounds and four assists.
Freshman Garet Beal of Beals Island scored nine points after the game was out of hand to lead UMaine. Dimitry Akanda-Coronel (4 assists) and Xavier Pollard each added seven points.
“They’re a well-rounded team,” Beal said. “They’ve got a lot of good shooters and they’ve got a lot of good size.”
The Bears found themselves in a deep early hole and trailed 37-20 at intermission.
Vermont had its way during the first nine minutes, finding open shots in the post and along the baseline and complementing the entry passes with a 3-point presence.
The Catamounts, who surged to a 27-7 advantage only 11 minutes into the contest, wound up shooting 57 percent (16-for-28) from the field in the half and also controlled the rebounding to the tune of an 18-9 margin.
Vermont scored 20 of its 37 points in the paint and tallied 13 points after Black Bear turnovers (10). However, the Catamounts experienced some turnover issues of their own, which helped slow their offensive success.
Clancy Rugg scored twice early to help stake Vermont to a 10-point lead, before the visitors rattled off a key spurt.
Leading 12-5, Sandro Carissimo opened the 9-0 flurry with a 3-pointer, then Rugg dunked on a cut through the lane off a Candon Rusin pass. O’Day followed with a short-range turnaround and converted a Harold pass with a lay-in that made it 21-5 at the 11:04 mark.
“In order to beat them, you’ve got to play 40 minutes of making them work for every inch that they get and I don’t think we really came out and did that,” said Woodward, who called three timeouts in the opening 10:01 in an attempt to slow the Catamounts.
Till Gloger ended the Bears’ three-minute offensive drought with a short jump hook from the baseline, but O’Day sandwiched a basket off a low-post move and a dunk around Josh Elbaum’s fast-break layup as Vermont took a commanding 27-7 lead with 9:13 remaining.
Pollard scored seven consecutive points during a later 7-2 run by UMaine, but 17 was a close as the hosts would get.
The Bears were unable to consistently generate their preferred fast-break tempo because of Vermont’s excellent shooting and its tenacious offensive rebounding.
UMaine is back in action Saturday at 2 p.m. at Memorial Gym in Orono against Albany.