ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine men’s basketball team has experienced its share of second-half struggles in recent years.
Similar difficulties appear to be in evidence again this winter.
Coach Ted Woodward’s Black Bears have lost three in a row and six of their last seven games coming off Saturday’s gut-wrenching 68-67 setback at Maryland Baltimore County. UMaine is 5-9 in its last 14 games.
During 2011-2012, the Bears lost seven of their last eight games. Last season, UMaine dropped eight of its last nine contests.
The latest loss came in agonizing fashion, as the Retrievers inbounded with seven seconds left, rushed the ball up the floor and found Brian Neller for a fall-away 3-pointer with 0.5 seconds remaining.
“Defensively, we had the right guys picked in the right spots,” Woodward said. The kid came off and made a big-time shot. You’ve got to tip your hat to him.”
It was the second late-second loss in the last five games for UMaine. Binghamton’s Jimmy Gray drained a game-winning 3-pointer with 3.4 seconds left on Jan. 19 to beat the Bears.
“We’re obviously very disappointed,” Woodward said. “We’ve gotten beat by a last-second 3 two times in the last five games. That’s tough and both of them were tough shots.”
In the last seven games, opponents have beaten UMaine by an average of only five points. Three of the losses came by three points or fewer.
“We recognize we’re just a couple plays away from having a couple more wins in the league,” Woodward said.
Most recently, the Bears have been trying to compensate for the loss of Justin Edwards. The dynamic sophomore guard suffered a sprained left ankle during the first half of the Jan. 30 home game against New Hampshire.
The Wildcats wound up edging the Bears 57-54 at Alfond Arena.
Edwards, the league’s leading scorer with 17.0 points per game, also missed Saturday’s game. He also is averaging 5.3 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.9 steals.
“We’re confident. I know Justin’s the leading scorer for our basketball team, he’s obviously a tremendous player,” Woodward said, “but there’s lots of things that other guys can do and we’ll just play to their strengths.”
Woodward said the solution to UMaine’s recent woes can be found in some small things. He said the Bears need only make two more stops on defense, avoid committing one or two turnovers, or hit a couple of shots to turn the losses into victories.
“We’re putting ourselves in position to win a lot of games, we’ve just got to make sure we find a way to finish those things off,” he said.
UMaine’s Wood hitting stride
Even though the UMaine women’s basketball team (2-20, 1-8 America East) has continued to struggle as it starts the second half of its conference season, one player is coming on strong.
Freshman Liz Wood is settling in nicely as one of the Black Bears’ most well-rounded players. The 5-foot-10 guard from Catlett, Va., picked up her third consecutive America East Rookie of the Week honor Monday after turning in another strong stretch of games.
“She’s got a good level of mental toughness,” said UMaine coach Richard Barron. “She’s a good kid to have around, just very solid and consistent in everything she does. She gives great effort.”
Wood averaged 15.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1 steal in two UMaine losses. She scored 12 points against New Hampshire, then logged her fourth double-double of the season with 19 points and a career-high 11 rebounds Saturday against Maryland Baltimore County.
Wood now has scored in double figures in six straight games while raising her scoring average to 9.1 points per game, which ranks third on the team. She leads UMaine with 6.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.2 steals per contest.
She also has logged a team-best 32.0 minutes per game, averaging 2.6 turnovers.
Barron said humility and leadership are two important qualities Wood brings to the table.
“She’s not brash. She’s not boastful at all,” he said of Wood, who is hoping for her to be a more forceful presence as a team leader.
“She’s very careful about how much she vocalizes in terms of leadership and not wanting to step on toes or take on too much or overextend herself or her role,” Barron added. “It doesn’t impact, in any way, her work ethic.”