BANGOR, Maine — There appeared to be a glimmer of hope that the University of Maine men’s basketball team might snap its losing streak on Monday afternoon.
Then the bottom fell out.
The Black Bears built a seven-point lead in the second half, only to have New Jersey Institute of Technology rattle off a 15-2 run on its way to a 65-55 nonleague victory at the Cross Insurance Center.
Coach Bob Walsh said his team lacked the fortitude to handle a gritty opponent.
“I just thought they had an edge to the way they played in the last 10 minutes that we didn’t stand up to,” Walsh said.
“NJIT was aggressive, they drove it at us, they challenged our toughness and they were tougher than we were,” he added.
UMaine (1-17) suffered its 12th consecutive loss despite holding the Highlanders (11-10) under 40 percent shooting.
However, the Black Bears were unable to execute at the offensive end and failed to get stops down the stretch as NJIT pulled away.
“For a stretch we played good, but when it comes down to a couple plays that win the game, we just didn’t make it,” said senior Zarko Valjarevic, who made four 3-pointers on his way to a team-high 12 points.
Kevin Little posted 11 points and four assists, Garet Beal of Beals Island finished with 10 points and six rebounds and Shaun Lawton came up with eight points and five rebounds for UMaine. Valjarevic grabbed a team-best seven rebounds.
Damon Lynn poured in a game-high 27 points and added five assists to pace the Highlanders. Rob Ukawuba contributed 14 points, Tim Coleman added eight points and seven rebounds and Daquan Holiday chipped in with six points, seven rebounds and four blocked shots.
Valjarevic hit three consecutive 3’s in the second half to help spark a 14-5 surge that gave the Bears a 43-36 lead on Little’s 3-pointer with 9:57 to play.
NJIT, playing again without injured point guard Ky Howard (ankle), responded. Lynn and Ukawuba scored five points each amidst a game-changing 15-2 run that gave the Highlanders the lead for good.
“Our defense, we gave up 29 points in less than 10 minutes, so do the math,” Walsh said. “That’s like 120 points in a game. You just can’t win if you’re going to give up points at that rate.”
Lynn hit a runner, then buried a 3-pointer after a Till Gloger turnover. Coleman scored from the lane after Lawton gave up the ball to put NJIT in front 48-45.
UMaine’s turnover woes continued as Ukawuba made a fast-break layup and hit a 3-pointer in transition off a Winfield Willis pass to give the visitors a 51-46 edge with 4:18 to play.
The Black Bears got back within three at one point, but NJIT outscored the hosts 12-5 over the last 2:43.
“They started penetrating and kicking and we were giving up middle drives where we were forced to help and they kicked it out and they made in-rhythm 3’s,” Walsh said. “What we’re doing defensively isn’t close to good enough and that’s got to change.”
UMaine did not have the services of sophomore Troy Reid-Knight (head injury) for the second game in a row.