When the University of Maine men’s basketball team gives itself a chance to win in the final minutes — or beyond — Sergio El Darwich is proving himself to be one of the better finishers in America East.
El Darwich, a senior guard playing in front of his parents from Lebanon for the first time in since he was 15, scored nine of his 36 points in overtime Wednesday night as the Black Bears secured a 104-98 victory over UMass Lowell at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.
“It’s nice to get a win and see everybody playing well,” El Darwich said. “It was a great environment here and my parents are here watching me play for the first time in five or six years so I’ve got to do something for them. I can’t just have a regular game.”
The win came in the opener of a three-game conference homestand for coach Richard Barron’s club, now 5-13 overall and 1-3 in league play. The Black Bears return to action Sunday afternoon against Binghamton, followed by a meeting with defending conference champion Vermont next Wednesday night.
UMass Lowell is now 8-11 overall, 2-2 in America East play.
“I think the product was better, and we never got too distracted, we never got too upset about plays or calls,” Barron said. “We just went on to the next play and I thought our execution down the stretch was terrific.”
Darwich, whose late-game heroics helped UMaine extend Central Connecticut State to double overtime last winter and defeat Columbia in overtime on Jan. 2, opened the overtime against UMass Lowell by feeding Miks Antoms for a slam dunk to give UMaine an 88-86 lead.
UML countered with five straight points, including a 3-pointer from Ron Mitchell, to take a 91-88 lead, but UMaine scored seven straight to take the lead for good. El Darwich fed freshman guard Precious Okoh for a fast-break basket, then buried a 3-pointer to give UMaine a 93-91 lead with 2:01 left in the extra period.
El Darwich then added with two free throws before UML crept within 95-94 on a Christian Lutete 3-pointer with a minute left.
But Okoh gave UMaine the lead back with a layup, then the Black Bears made 7 of 8 free throws over the final 37 seconds to secure the victory.
“It was a great opportunity,” said Okoh, a walk-on from Brockton, Massachusetts, who scored six of his 14 points during the extra session.
He shot 5 of 6 from the field overall and made both of his free-throw tries.
“I’ve played minutes before, but this was the first game I felt like I actually impacted the game on both ends a lot,” he said.
El Darwich shot 10 of 21 from the field with four 3-pointers along with a 12-of-13 effort from the free-throw line, and barely missed a triple-double as he added 10 assists and nine rebounds.
Senior forward Andrew Fleming also scored 14 points for the Black Bears and Vilgot Larsson finished with 12.
“I thought we executed better on the offensive end than we have in quite some time and we shot better, too, especially Sergio and Precious,” Barron said. “It was just a really solid game in terms of execution, and I felt like our team stayed locked in mentally in a way we haven’t really all season, to be honest.
Lutete, the leading scorer in America East at 20.4 points per game entering the contest, led UMass Lowell with 29 points while Obadiah Noel added 26.
“It was two different styles. We were trying to get the ball inside, they have really good guard play and our defense was trying to take the ball out of their guards’ hands with traps,” Barron said.
Both teams shot well from the field, with UMaine at 52 percent (34 of 65) and UMass Lowell at 53 percent (32 of 61) during a game that featured 16 ties and 16 lead changes.
UMaine also made 76 percent (25 of 33) of its free throws while UMass Lowell was 22 of 30, or 73 percent.
The Black Bears also won the turnover battle, committing just 13 over the 45 minutes compared to 18 for the River Hawks.
“We got some transition opportunities, I thought our spacing was really good and we were more deliberate about reading the defense today instead of just going through the motions,” Barron said.