BANGOR, Maine — There was a lengthy period of time on Saturday afternoon that the University of Maine men’s basketball team couldn’t stop Binghamton University from getting the ball inside.

Faced with the possibility of that dynamic deciding the outcome, the Black Bears ratcheted up their defense during the latter stages of the game.

UMaine’s gritty defense helped pave the way for a game-closing 12-2 run that lifted the Black Bears to a 74-63 America East victory at the Cross Insurance Center.

Coach Bob Walsh’s ballclub (8-13) improved to 4-4 in league play with another effective crunch-time performance that was built around its hard-nosed, man-to-man defense.

“In the last 12 minutes or so, we made a decision just to guard them and rely on our half-court defense,” said Walsh, whose squad won its second straight game.

“To win consistently, you have to be able to guard in the half-court, you have to be able to execute in the half-court, no matter what style you want to play.”

The Black Bears, who were giving up 88.4 points per game in league play, limited Binghamton (5-16, 2-6 AE) to 12 points over the last 12-plus minutes. The Bearcats wound up shooting 32 percent (8-for-25) from the field in the second half.

The Black Bears stepped up their ball pressure, but also were able to find help in the paint to help bottle up Binghamton’s post contingent, which was led by 6-foot-9 Thomas Bruce (16 points).

“I thought their guys fought really hard in the post,” said Binghamton coach Tommy Dempsey. “We’re not a great [perimeter] shooting team, so I thought they were bringing extra help in there.”

UMaine’s frontcourt was spearheaded by freshman Issac Vann’s high-flying highlight reel. He scored 19 points, snatched 11 rebounds, dished out six assists, blocked three shots and made two steals.

Vann, who had shot only 3-for-21 in his previous two games, went 7-for-10 against the Bearcats with a pair of authoritative dunks.

“I scored a couple times and I got my confidence back. I just tried to be aggressive,” Vann said.

“[Dunking] definitely boosts confidence. An exciting play like that makes me want to play defense and try to get another one,” he added.

Sophomore guard Kevin Little scored a game-high 22 points, knocking down three 3-pointers while scoring 11 points to stake the Black Bears to a 13-2 lead four minutes into the contest.

Till Gloger chipped in with nine points for UMaine, which shot 24-for-59 (41 percent).

Timmy Rose tallied 14 points and Bobby Ahearn added 11 for the Bearcats, who shot 41 percent (24-for-59) overall. Everson Davis had five assists.

The Black Bears executed well over the last 3:39, after Ahearn sank two free throws to cut the hosts’ lead to 62-61.

UMaine refused to relinquish the lead as Shaun Lawton made two foul shots and Gloger cashed in on a turnover with a left-handed shot from down low. Little followed with a fast-break layup off a feed from Vann that made it 68-61 with 1:59 to play.

Davis drove in and scored a floater over the outstretched arms of a leaping Vann, but Vann went 4-for-4 from the foul line and Aaron Calixte made two to help the Black Bears close it out.

“I thought there were a lot of plays in the second half where they [Binghamton] had to finish over a strong, straight body in front and they struggled to do that,” Walsh said.

The game was a battle of tempos as UMaine tried to dictate its usual frenetic pace with pressure defense and quick-striking offense against a deliberate Binghamton offensive game plan.

The Black Bears succeeded early behind the open-court play of Little, who scored early and often as the hosts converted four Binghamton turnovers into 10 points.

“We jumped on them [and] I thought all right, we’re gonna bury them and let’s just get ready for the next one,” Little admitted. “But they fought back.”

Binghamton survived a brutal first seven minutes and rallied to grab a 36-32 lead at halftime. The Bearcats responded with excellent offensive execution as the Black Bears’ efficiency plummeted.

The visitors put together an impressive 20-4 run that turned the 11-point deficit into a 26-20 lead with 7:25 remaining in the half. Binghamton effectively negotiated UMaine’s full-court pressure and trapping in the half-court and got the ball inside repeatedly.

“They were getting it to the rim in the first half at will,” Walsh said. “We talk about ‘body in front,’ getting your body in front of the basketball when they’re driving it to the rim.”

Bruce scored six points during the resurgence and finished with a team-high nine for the half along with Ahearn. Binghamton shot 47 percent (16-for-34) from the floor, including a 26-17 edge on points in the paint.

Little ended the half with 15 points but the rest of the team combined for only 17 points on 7-for-18 shooting.

“I wasn’t sure it was just our defense,” Walsh said of the Black Bears’ inexplicable letdown. “It was sort of the energy level and the toughness level.”

Pete Warner

Pete graduated from Bangor High School in 1980 and earned a B.S. in Journalism (Advertising) from the University of Maine in 1986. He grew up fishing at his family's camp on Sebago Lake but didn't take...