ORONO, Maine — It was a game that had a postseason feel to it. In the end, it was Holy Cross that executed with the game on the line.
The Crusaders held the University of Maine scoreless during the last 57 seconds Friday to hold on for a 61-59 victory in the first round of the Dead River Co. Classic at Alfond Arena.
Freshman Katelyn Vanderhoff’s 3-pointer glanced off the rim at the buzzer as coach Cindy Blodgett’s Black Bears lost their third straight game.
UMaine (1-3) faces Buffalo (1-3) in today’s noon consolation game, while Holy Cross (3-3) meets Penn State (4-1), an 86-65 winner in Friday’s opener, in today’s 2 p.m. tournament championship game.
Kristin Baker’s 3-pointer from the left wing off a penetrate-and-pitch assist by Amanda Tewksbury had given UMaine a 59-58 lead with 58.1 seconds to play. The Bears would get two more possessions, but could not score on either.
Briana McFadden put Holy Cross back in front with 38.4 seconds left, muscling in a rebound of her own miss.
With the Crusaders double-teaming UMaine center Corinne Wellington down low, the Bears had to look elsewhere for their offense in the late going. Vanderhoff wound up missing a 3-pointer, but the Bears controlled the offensive rebound.
Vanderhoff eventually lost control of the ball and UMaine fouled with 9.9 seconds to play. Meredith Ward missed the free throw, but Alyssa May scrambled to control the offensive rebound and call timeout.
The Bears fouled again, leading to one Bethany O’Dell foul shot with 6.4 seconds remaining. After a timeout, UMaine eventually got the ball into the frontcourt to set up Vanderhoff’s final shot at the buzzer.
Wellington was a force in the paint, leading UMaine with a career-high 20 points and 10 rebounds. Baker contributed 15 points, six rebounds and four assists, while Samantha Wheeler provided 12 points and five rebounds and Amanda Tewksbury 10 points, seven rebounds and three steals. Vanderhoff added eight rebounds and six assists.
UMaine committed 20 turnovers, which led to 27 Holy Cross points. The Bears outrebounded the Crusaders 41-31.
O’Dell sparked Holy Cross with 17 points, five assists and five steals. Whitney Fremeau posted 14 points and nine rebounds, Briana McFadden added 10 points.
The Crusaders had 15 turnovers, but outscored the Bears 13-5 from the foul line.
UMaine asserted itself to open the second half as Wheeler scored four points to spark a 9-0 flurry and put the Bears back in front after they trailed 33-27 at halftime.
It was Wellington who put a charge into the UMaine offense in the second half. She scored seven consecutive points, including three off a steal-layup-free throw sequence to give the hosts a 43-40 edge with 12 minutes to play.
That provided the impetus for continued offensive continuity as UMaine looked twice inside to Wheeler while extending the lead to 50-44 with 8:52 left.
However, the Crusaders countered shortly thereafter, rattling off a 7-0 run that put them back in front (53-52) with 4:12 remaining. UMaine led once more (54-53) after two Wheeler free throws, but Ward hit a clutch 3-pointer to boost Holy Cross.
The Bears came charging out of the gate and quickly built a 15-5 advantage in the first 5 1/2 minutes of the contest.
It didn’t last, as the Crusaders owned the final 13 minutes of the half. Holy Cross outscored UMaine 28-12 during that span to take its halftime lead.
Wellington gave UMaine a strong post presence in the early going, but Holy Cross countered by pressuring the ball on the perimeter. That restricted the Bears’ ability to make entry passes and also led to a handful of turnovers.
The visitors had to work hard for their points, but established a good inside-outside balance. When UMaine backed off, Holy Cross hit some 3-pointers.
And when the Bears pulled away from the basket in their man-to-man, the Crusaders were able to find open players in the paint.
Six different players scored as Holy Cross put together an 18-4 surge that turned the 10-point deficit into a 23-19 lead with 5:22 remaining in the half.
Baker’s heady and aggressive play at the point helped UMaine stay close, but the Crusaders scored three uncontested baskets in the last 1:44 of the half to make it a six-point game.
UMaine committed 10 first-half turnovers, which led to 17 Holy Cross points.