BANGOR, Maine — Amid the high intensity that is the norm during most Division I men’s basketball games is a facet of the sport much more subtle but often just as crucial to success — the free throw.
Free throws were the decisive factor Saturday afternoon as Central Connecticut State outlasted the University of Maine 93-90 in double overtime at the Cross Insurance Center.
CCSU, which hadn’t defeated a Division I team since an 89-75 victory over Florida A&M on Nov. 18, used its accuracy at the line to fend off a UMaine team that got game-tying 3-pointers from Sergio El Darwich at the buzzer to end both regulation play and the first overtime.
The 6-6 Blue Devils, who entered the game leading the Northeast Conference with a free-throw shooting percentage of .768, made 31 of 35 attempts (88.6 percent) from the line against the Black Bears.
They shot 21 of 22 during the second half and the two five-minute extra periods, and made 17 straight to end the game.
“They’re a real good free-throw shooting team and we put them at the line way too much,” said UMaine coach Richard Barron, whose 2-11 Black Bears made 68 percent (17 of 25) of their free throws.
“Some of those were fouls that we just have to recognize where we are on the floor and the situation,” he continued. “In the second half we had six quick fouls and they were shooting free throws the rest of the game.”
CCSU senior swingman Tyler Kohl, who scored a game-high 33 points, made 12 of his 13 free throws, including all six during overtime.
“Every day when we finish practice we do 15 minutes of free throws with no talking allowed, we take it very seriously,” said Kohl. “And as it showed tonight it’s a crucial part of the game, knocking down free throws.”
El Darwich, who entered the contest shooting just 15.4 percent from beyond the 3-point arc, finished with a team-high 26 points. That included 11 during overtime after his 3-pointer from deep beyond the top of the key had forged a 73-73 tie as time expired in regulation play.
The junior guard from Dekweneh, Lebanon, via Western Texas College, opened the first overtime with a slam dunk, then rallied UMaine from a late 84-81 deficit with another 3-point shot. This one came from deep on the right wing right in front of the Black Bears’ bench to send the game to a second extra period.
“Coach Barron stays on me to keep shooting the ball,” said El Darwich. “I hadn’t been shooting that well coming into this game, but this showed that the confidence that coach Barron gives me and all of the guards.
In the (final seconds of regulation) I made a turnover, but then we needed a 3-pointer and he trusted me to shoot the ball.”
Another 3-pointer by El Darwich rallied UMaine to an 89-89 tie with 1:01 left in the second overtime before Kohl — already a two-time NEC player of the week this season — put Central Connecticut State ahead for good with a runner from the lane with 28 seconds remaining.
El Darwich then made one of two from the line to cut the UMaine deficit to 91-90 before CCSU’s Jamir Coleman made two free throws with 6.3 seconds left.
UMaine advanced the ball to midcourt and called timeout. Coming out of the break Ilija Stojiljkovic inbounded the ball to Isaiah White, whose fadeaway 3-pointer from deep in the right corner fell off the rim as time expired.
White finished with 22 points and six rebounds and Andrew Fleming contributed 18 points, nine rebounds and four assists for UMaine before fouling out with 2:35 left in the second overtime.