ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine men’s basketball team overcame a nine-point second half deficit and a rare off-night at the free-throw line to edge Eastern Illinois 64-60 at Memorial Gym on Wednesday night.
Maine, which shot 52 percent from the line, is 5-4 overall. Eastern Illinois fell to 6-5.
Maine trailed 38-29 early in the second half in front of a crowd of 1,077 but rallied with a 12-2 run to take the lead.
Gerald McLemore had six points during the spurt and Alasdair Fraser had four.
Eastern Illinois regained a 56-53 lead with 3:08 left, but the Bears responded with a decisive11-4 run to close out the game.
Justin Edwards fed Fraser for a bucket underneath with 2:50 left to trigger the rally and, after an Alfonzo McKinnie miss and a Justin Edwards rebound, McKinnie eventually fouled Fraser and he hit one of two from the line to tie it with 2:07 left.
Eastern Illinois’ Jeremy Granger sliced from left to right across the paint and hit a layup to make it 58-56 with 1:36 left, but Maine answered when McLemore passed to Mike Allison underneath.
“That’s the only layup I could hit all night, but I picked the right (time) to do it,” said Allison.
Granger, a preseason All-Ohio Valley Conference choice, tried to regain the lead, but Fraser got a piece of his shot and that led to a fast break. McLemore’s along-the-baseline pass to Edwards for a layup giving Maine the lead for good with 55 seconds left.
“I was able to get my fingertip on [Granger’s shot],” said Fraser.
McLemore said, “I could have taken a 3, but I saw the mismatch down low. So I pump-faked, their guy stepped up and I got it over to Justin.”
“Gerald made a good pass and I just finished it,” said Edwards.
Granger missed a jumper, Fraser got the rebound and was fouled. He sank one of two to make it 61-58 with 38 seconds left.
Granger scored with a high-arching runner, but McLemore was fouled after the inbounds pass and nailed two free throws with 23 seconds left.
The Panthers missed a pair of jumpers before Allison grabbed the rebound and sank a free throw with seven seconds left to ice it.
“During that stretch, we kept on scoring and getting stops and that gave us a burst of energy we really needed,” said Allison.
“We made big plays and played together when it counted,” said Fraser. “We didn’t play well defensively in the first half. We let them do what they wanted to. [Coach Ted Woodward] told us at halftime that we needed to get stops and that’s what won us the game. All those stops led to baskets.”
McLemore finished with 21 points and six rebounds, and Fraser had 19 points and a game-high 11 rebounds including seven off the offensive glass.
Edwards had 14 points, nine rebounds and four assists, and Raheem Singleton had five assists.
McKinnie’s 20 points and seven rebounds and Granger’s 15 points and game-high seven assists and three steals led Eastern Illinois.
“Maine’s a tough team,” said Granger. “They fought hard. We had some breakdowns at the end, mainly offensive breakdowns, and we weren’t able to recover from them. We didn’t execute the way we should have. We also weren’t getting back on defense and that let them get a lot of transition (points).”
“They played like they wanted it more at the end,” added Granger.
“Our defense really stepped up and we got some rebounds that allowed us to get into transition, which was huge for us,” said Woodward.
The Panthers, who had beaten Maine 85-80 in overtime on Nov. 30 in Charleston, Ill., took a 29-23 lead into intermission thanks to a 14-1 run to end the half.
Maine missed its last four shots of the half and also turned the ball over on a couple of occasions while Eastern Illinois connected on five of its last six field-goal attempts.
Granger, who had been held without a point through the first 14:30, jump-started the run with a short jumper off an Austin Akers pass and followed that with a jumper from the top of the key.
McKinnie knocked home the rebound off a Josh Piper miss and finished off a fast break with a layup off a Granger feed to give Eastern Illinois a 23-22 lead with 2:39 left.
A Granger steal and alley-oop pass was converted by McKinnie, and Piper banked home a short jumper off another Granger pass.
Edwards ended Maine’s 4:02 scoreless drought with a free throw, but Piper nailed a top-of-the-key jumper off an Akers feed.
Eastern Illinois’ flurry came on the heels of a seven-point run by Maine that gave the Black Bears the biggest lead of the half up to that point at 22-15.
McKinnie had 14 first-half points and five rebounds while Maine was led by Edwards’ 10 points and four rebounds and Fraser’s six points and five rebounds.
Maine outrebounded Eastern Illinois 39-35 and shot 45.3 percent from the floor compared to the Panthers’ 40.3 percent.