Nia Irving of Fairfield had a memorable return to Maine on Sunday afternoon.
The 6-foot-1 senior forward, a former Lawrence High School star, scored a team-high 20 points, grabbed nine rebounds and also drew four player-control fouls to lead Boston University to a 62-49 basketball over an injury-plagued University of Maine team at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.
BU improved to 2-1 while UMaine fell to 1-2.
In addition to being without 6-foot-1 forward Fanny Wadling, the 2018-2019 America East rebounding leader, with a concussion, UMaine also lost America East Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year Blanca Millan for most of the game.
Millan, who was averaging 32 points per game, suffered a cut over her right eye 47 seconds into the game when she dove for a loose ball and hit her head on the court. It sidelined her until there was 1:10 remaining in the third period.
Irving and her BU teammates had a field day in the paint against the Black Bears, whose starting lineup was on average 3 inches shorter. The Terriers outrebounded UMaine 35-20 and had a 28-16 edge in points in the paint.
“We had a big size advantage and we wanted to exploit that,” said Irving, who was chosen Miss Maine Basketball in 2016 and was a first-team Bangor Daily News All-Maine selection.
“They should have hurt us in the paint. Our tallest starter [Maeve Carroll] was 5-10,” UMaine head coach Amy Vachon said.
Irving, cheered on by family and friends, scored BU’s first six points as the Terriers jumped out to a 6-2 lead that it never relinquished.
Junior point guard Dor Saar valiantly kept the Black Bears in the game by scoring UMaine’s first 14 points and feeding Anna Kahelin for a 3-pointer that pulled UMaine within 18-17 with 5:05 left in the first half.
But Irving grabbed an offensive rebound and converted a conventional three-point play and Katie Nelson nailed a 3-pointer to make it 24-18, closing out the first-half scoring.
An 11-0 run by BU after Carroll opened the second half with a layup off a Saar feed expanded the lead to 35-20. Annabelle Larnard, a 6-2 freshman forward, scored five of the 11 points.
“We were a little up and down but we did a nice job putting together a strong third quarter and that has become kind of a signature for us,” second-year BU head coach Marisa Moseley said.
Irving said she was happy with her performance overall although she wasn’t enamored with her game-high eight turnovers.
“I think I did a good job stepping up into the help defense and taking charges when I needed to,” she said.
Vachon was impressed with Irving.
“I love that kid. She works hard, She played well,” Vachon said. “I’m happy for her.”
Nelson finished with 13 points and five assists, Sydney Johnson contributed 12 points, two assists and two steals and Larnard chipped in with 11 points and eight rebounds.
Saar poured in a game- and career-high 21 points for UMaine and she also dished out four assists and made two steals. Millan (4 rebounds, 2 assists) provided 10 points in less than 12 minutes after returning to the game with a bandage over her eye.
Saar and Millan shot a combined 50 percent from the floor (11-for-22) but the rest of the Black Bears shot just a 23.1 percent (6-for-26). Carroll and Kahelin had six points each.
Vachon said Saar had a great game and did a lot of good things for the team.
Saar left the court with a bloody nose for 2 1/2 minutes in the first quarter and returned wearing No. 12 instead of her normal No. 15 jersey, which had been bloodied.
“I loved how our team competed,” Vachon said. “For a couple of minutes in the first quarter, we didn’t have Fanny, Blanca or Dor and we kept it close. I loved how hard we played,” Vachon said.
“Did we make mistakes? Yes we did, offensively and defensively, but we’re going to be OK if we give that effort every day,” she added. “We aren’t where we want to be, but we will be in a little bit.”