VESTAL, New York — The offense was often spinning its wheels and there were some uncharacteristic turnovers.
It’s a good thing the University of Maine brought its usual gritty defense for Saturday’s America East women’s basketball quarterfinal against the University of New Hampshire.
The second-seeded Black Bears held the No. 7 Wildcats to 20 second-half points, punching their ticket to the semifinals with a 58-47 victory at Binghamton University’s Events Center.
“We had the chances to really put this game away early,” said UMaine coach Richard Barron. “We missed people who were open.
“Maybe that’s either a reflection of poor coaching on my part of it’s a reflection of their not being in the moment: Thinking about the game, thinking about the repercussions of the game,” he added.
UMaine (25-7), which extended its winning streak to 13 games, faces No. 3 Stony Brook, a 60-40 winner over No. 6 Hartford, in Sunday’s 2 p.m. semifinal, followed by No. 1 Albany against No. 5 Binghamton.
It was the Black Bears’ third win of the season over New Hampshire, which ends its season at 12-18.
UMaine was able to overcome its shortcomings at the offensive end by taking care of business at the other end.
“I felt like we lost focus on execution on a number of occasions, but we defended well enough and rebounded particularly well today and that was enough to give us the win,” Barron said.
All-America East first-team selections Sigi Koizar of UMaine and Elizabeth Belanger of New Hampshire dueled offensively for their respective teams with 23 points each, but the Black Bears’ supporting cast was more effective.
Liz Wood posted a double-double with 13 points, 10 rebounds, four steals and two assists and Mikaela Gustafsson tallied nine points and six rebounds. Fellow senior Chantel Charles chipped in with seven points, four assists, three rebounds and three steals.
UMaine shot only 38 percent (19-for-50) and committed 13 turnovers that led to 18 points by the Wildcats. The Bears also hit only three 3-pointers (3-for-15), but outscored UNH 17-5 from the foul line.
UMaine dominated the rebounding 37-22.
“I think we were collectively really good in the second half on defense,” offered Wood, a member of the AE All-Defensive Team.
Carlie Pogue complemented Belanger’s play with 11 points and six rebounds, but nine of those points came in the first half.
The Black Bears built a lead of as many as nine points in the second quarter as Koizar scored five points and Wood knocked down a 3-pointer during an 8-2 burst that made it 29-20 with 6:02 left in the first half.
However, UMaine committed five turnovers in the quarter after that and the crafty Belanger scored seven points to keep UNH close.
“Elizabeth Belanger, she’s hitting some unreal shots,” Wood said. “You thought you were there and next thing you know, she scores on you.”
The teams combined for only 15 third-quarter points as the Black Bears struggled with turnovers amidst a stretch of 11 minutes during which they made only one field goal.
“I think defensively we did a good job on them,” Belanger said. “We let them get a little too many easy looks, but overall I thought we stood our ground and we forced them into a lot of tough shots.”
However, the Wildcats could not find any consistent offensive help for Belanger as Wood played a key role in limiting the 6-foot-2 Pogue to two points over the last 28-plus minutes.
“I thought Liz did a very good job guarding Carlie Pogue after Mikaela started off on her and they were kind of swapping baskets,” Barron said.
UMaine wasn’t able to put the game away until the final minute.
Belanger banked in a six-footer, but missed the ensuing free throw, leaving UMaine clinging to a 51-47 lead. The Black Bears countered when Charles fed Wood in the post with a nifty wrap-around pass for a key basket with 46 seconds left.
A missed 3-pointer by UNH led to one Lauren Bodine foul shot, then Wood made a tip-away steal to Koizar, who converted two free throws to put the game out of reach.
The Bears survived some uncharacteristic turnover issues to forge a 33-27 halftime lead.
Koizar was the offensive catalyst as she connected for 17 points amidst UMaine’s 41 percent shooting (11-for-27) efforts. Gustafsson scored eight, all in the first quarter.
The Bears scored 11 points off six turnovers by the Wildcats, who managed nine points off the UMaine miscues. UMaine also outrebounded UNH 20-10, including nine offensive rebounds that resulted in 10 second-chance points.
The Black Bears went 8-for-12 from the foul line.
UNH got early inside-out production out of Pogue (9 points, 5 rebounds), but it was Belanger who carried the offense. She buried a 28-foot 3-pointer late in a shot clock with her team trailing by nine, then hit a couple of baseline jumpers in the last 2:19 of the half to keep the Wildcats close.
UNH shot 48 percent (11-for-23) from the floor.
In the other quarterfinals, Albany rolled by Vermont 95-43 and Binghamton beat UMBC 49-41.