The men’s basketball border war for the 2019-2020 America East season goes to the University of New Hampshire.
The visiting Wildcats made seven of their eight free throws in the final 54 seconds Wednesday night at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor to edge the University of Maine 77-70 and complete a sweep of their two-game season series.
UNH is 14-13 overall, 7-7 in conference play. UMaine dips to 7-21 overall (3-11 AE) and fell into last place in the conference behind eighth-place Binghamton, which now owns the final playoff spot. The Bearcats are 4-11 in league play after their 76-74 victory Wednesday night over Maryland Baltimore County.
UMaine, which swept the season series from Binghamton, has two games remaining, home Saturday against UMBC and at Hartford on Tuesday, March 3. Binghamton concludes its regular-season schedule at New Hampshire on Saturday.
Nine of UMaine’s 11 losses have come by 10 points or less.
“I really mean this, and I’m not just saying this because we won the game, but they’re a good team,” UNH coach Bill Herrion said. “They’re just having a hard time finding ways to win.
“We got some stops late, a couple of big buckets and we were able to win the game.”
Marque Maultsby led a balanced UNH attack with 17 points, while Chris Lester and Jayden Martinez scored 16 each and Nick Guadarrama added 11.
Nedeljko Prijovic led UMaine with 18 points and eight rebounds. Sergio El Darwich added 17 points and Veljko Radakovic added 11 points, all within a 4 1/2-minute stretch of the second half.
“We closed the game poorly, hung our heads and we let it snowball,” said UMaine coach Richard Barron, whose team was outscored 11-4 over the final four minutes.
UMaine trailed 33-32 at halftime but went on a 9-0 run early in the second half to build a 41-36 lead.
Prijovic buried a 3-pointer before fast-break layup by Ja’Shonte Wright-McLeish gave UMaine a 37-36 edge. Prijovic then was fouled after a steal and made both free throws, and Stephane Ingo (eight points, 11 rebounds) blocked a shot at one end and scored off an El Darwich feed at the other end to give the Black Bears a five-point cushion with 16:32 left.
UNH scored five straight, including a three-point play from Chris Lester, to tie the game at 41-41, but the Wildcats then went nearly three minutes before scoring again as UMaine scored eight straight points.
Six came from the free-throw line, with Misha Yagodin making all four of his tries during the sequence and Radakovic adding one onto a layup after some nice setup work along the baseline by El Darwich to give UMaine a 49-41 lead with 12:21 left.
The game continued its ebb and flow despite straight UMaine points from Radakovic, a 6-foot-9 freshman from Serbia via Lee Academy, with a 3-pointer by Guadarrama giving UNH back a 58-57 lead with 7:42 to play.
That marked one of four lead changes and three ties, the final one at 66-66 on a 3-pointer by Andrew Fleming with 4:09 left.
UNH took a 70-66 lead on a post move by Sean Sutherlin and a steal and layup by Mark Carbone, but two missed free throws by Sutherlin with 2:30 left gave UMaine one final opening.
Fleming, sidelined for much of the night by foul trouble, made two free throws to draw the Black Bears within 70-68 with 2:06 left, but the Black Bears came up empty on their next two possessions and Martinez’s two free throws gave UNH a four-point lead with 53.9 seconds left.
Carbone added two more free throws for the Wildcats before Martinez made 1 of 2 from the line and Maultsby hit two more from the line in the final seconds to make it 77-68.
“There’s a tremendous amount of frustration, you wouldn’t be a competitor if there wasn’t frustration,” Barron said. “There’s also a job to do and a future ahead, and so you can live in the past or work at making a better future.”