ORONO, Maine — If there was a hole in the University of Maine’s defense on Saturday afternoon, Gary Johnson found it.
The senior guard enjoyed a career day, slashing his way through the paint on his way to 28 points, to lift the University at Albany to an 85-78 America East basketball victory over the Black Bears at Memorial Gym.
Johnson went 9-for-11 from the field and made 10 of 14 free throws to help the injury-plagued Great Danes shake a determined UMaine squad.
“At first we were settling for jumpers and coach just said be aggressive, so we just attacked the rim and it opened up for us,” Johnson said.
His efforts put a damper on a career performance by Black Bears sophomore Ethan Mackey. The 6-foot-7 post player made 11 of 12 shots on his way to a career-high 24 points and also grabbed seven rebounds in 35 minutes.
“I kind of fed off the energy of the home floor,” said Mackey, who is one of four nonscholarship players on the UMaine roster. “It was cool, because there were a lot of students there. A lot of my shots were falling, so I kept getting the ball and kept scoring.”
Coach Ted Woodward’s Black Bears (3-14, 1-4 AE), who were thumped 83-46 by Vermont on Thursday, turned in a better effort on Saturday. Even so, UMaine’s continued inability to get stops on defense, along with some turnover issues, proved their undoing.
“We’ve got to do a better job on the defensive end,” Woodward said.
“I thought in the second half in particular we got driven [on] a few times and we need to keep guys out of the paint,” he added.
Defending conference champion Albany (9-9, 3-2 AE) was coming off Wednesday’s 70-66 overtime loss at UMass Lowell.
Sophomore Dimitry Akanda-Coronel tossed in 19 points and snared five rebounds for UMaine, while classmate Till Gloger contributed 13 points. Junior Xavier Pollard chipped in with 11 points, a game-high eight rebounds and five assists.
Peter Hooley scored 19 points, sinking all 12 foul shots, and dished out six assists for Albany. Michael Rowley provided 10 points and five rebounds despite foul trouble.
The Black Bears trailed by as many 14 points in the second half, but mounted a final charge in the last three minutes.
Trailing 78-67, Mackey scored from underneath off a pass from Gloger, then Shaun Lawton (6 assists) made two free throws. Mackey made a rebound basket, then Gloger answered a foul shot by Albany’s D.J. Evans with a conventional three-point play that made it 79-76 with 57.7 seconds left.
“[Mackey] certainly did a great job finishing plays, going up and getting rebounds,” Woodward said. “I thought he fought hard the entire contest, gave us a great lift in the frontcourt.”
Kilian Cato drew a player-control foul against Hooley at the other end, which gave UMaine a chance to tie it. However, a 3-point attempt by Zarko Valjarevic missed with 20 seconds left and the Bears fouled.
“I thought we had a decent shot there to tie the game up,” Woodward said.
“I thought it was a clean, good-look 3 from one of the best 3-point shooters in the league,” he added.
Hooley made two free throws and UMaine answered on Lawton’s driving scoop shot, but Hooley sank four more from the line in the last 11 seconds.
Albany outscored UMaine 25-15 from the foul line and both teams shot 53 percent from the field. UMaine outrebounded Albany 34-23.
Albany used a couple of runs to establish a second-half cushion.
Johnson’s finger roll capped a 6-0 spurt that gave the visitors a 50-43 lead, then he scored twice on drives to the basket during a subsequent 8-0 flurry that made it 63-49.
UMaine was without freshman point guard Troy Reid-Knight, who was out for the third time in four games because of concussion symptoms. He took an elbow to the face in Thursday’s game against Vermont.
Albany did not have the services of 6-8 senior forward Luke Devlin, who missed his second straight contest who chronic back issues.