The University of Maine’s season ended in inexplicable and agonizing fashion on Friday night.
Quinnipiac University scored the last eight points of the first quarter, then poured it on with a dominating second-quarter performance on the way to a lopsided 90-44 victory over the Black Bears in the first round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament at the TD Bank Sports Center in Hamden, Connecticut.
The Bobcats of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference scored almost at will early, connecting for seven 3-pointers en route to 53 percent shooting over the first 20 minutes to build a 30-point halftime advantage.
It was the Black Bears’ most lopsided loss since a 97-42 setback at Syracuse on Nov. 24, 2013.
Coach Richard Barron was at a loss to explain what happened with his team, which went into the game ranked No. 3 in the NCAA in allowing only 50.0 points per contest.
“We just didn’t get off the bus today,” Barron told Don Shields of the Black Bear Sports Network. “I tried pushing every button I knew how to push starting out and we just couldn’t find it. Quinnipiac was very good, give them tons of credit. They were much better in person I think than what we saw on tape.”
UMaine (26-9), which had allowed more than 65 points only once all season (a 91-64 loss to Minnesota on Nov. 20), could not slow Quinnipiac’s versatile and potent offense.
The game marked the end to the careers of UMaine’s eight seniors: Liz Wood, Bella Swan, Mikaela Gustafsson, Sophie Weckstrom, Chantel Charles, Lauren Bodine, Anna Heise and Milica Mitrovic. That group was the nucleus that helped turn the Black Bears from a perennial doormat into a two-time America East regular-season champion.
“Especially knowing how bad they were their freshman year and how hard they worked, the culture they established, I really appreciate what they’ve done for the program and the community and they sure will be missed,” said UMaine junior Sigi Koizar.
Quinnipiac (25-8) advances to a second-round WNIT game against Temple, which won 74-66 at Drexel.
Paula Strautmane sparked the Bobcats with 21 points on 10-for-10 shooting and nine rebounds. Adily Martucci tossed in 18 points, Sarah Shewan registered a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds, and Edel Thornton chipped in with 10 points.
Quinnipiac shot 60 percent from the field, shooting 38-for-63. That included 11-for-23 accuracy from the 3-point arc (48 percent). The hosts also outrebounded the Black Bears 39-31 and scored 27 points as the result of an uncharacteristic 16 UMaine turnovers.
Koizar sparked UMaine with a game-high 23 points and grabbed five rebounds. Wood capped her career with a seven-point, six-rebound effort, and Swan added five points.
“We were not here today,” Barron said. “We didn’t pay attention to the scouting report. We didn’t listen in timeouts. We didn’t execute plays. We missed easy shots.
“I’m shocked that this is the performance that we gave today,” he added.
The Black Bears struggled mightily at the offensive end, shooting 29 percent overall (17-for-59), including a 3-for-20 performance (15 percent) from long distance.
The Bobcats manufactured a dominating 34-5 run to end the second half while building a 45-15 cushion. The 45 points allowed by UMaine in the first half were the second most surrendered in a half this season. Minnesota had rolled up 46 points in the first half of that game.
“Our defensive was really bad,” Koizar said. “We didn’t get to their shooters and they made us pay for everything we did wrong. They were knocking down the open shots and when we did get to them they were really good at making the extra pass. It got away from us on the defensive end.”
The 15 points scored by the Black Bears also were the second fewest of the season in a half. Dayton held UMaine to 14 points in a 58-37 Flyers victory on Nov. 27.
UMaine trailed only 11-10 after Koizar scored on a left-handed reverse layup at the 3:35 mark of the first quarter. However, the Black Bears managed only two baskets over the final 13½ minutes of the half.
Martucci ignited the extended surge, sandwiching a 3 and a driving layup around a Strautmane 3 that gave Quinnipiac a 19-10 lead after one.
The Bears’ turnover issues surfaced in earnest as they committed seven in the second period to to stoke the fire of the Bobcats’ game-changing run.
“We had so many uncharacteristic, unforced turnovers,’ Barron said. “Then once we got into that sort of death spiral, there was no getting out of it.”
Barron tried to shake things up by inserting four lesser-used subs after Quinnipiac had made it 29-12 with 8:04 left in the half, but the hosts scored three straight baskets to go up 33-12.
Martucci buried four 3-pointers in the quarter while Strautmane connected for six points from the paint as Quinnipiac ended the suspense while building the 30-point bulge.