BANGOR, Maine — The University of Maine men’s basketball team had hoped its first home game of the season would provide an elixir for its struggling ways.
Instead it was Princeton University that used the rims at the Cross Insurance Center as an antidote for poor 3-point shooting during a 73-59 non-conference victory over the Black Bears on Wednesday night.
The Tigers, who shot just 25.5 percent on 3-pointers during their first four games, shot over the top of UMaine’s defense and made 50 percent (11 of 22) of their long-range bids while improving their record to 3-2.
Leading that effort was senior guard Devin Cannady with a season-high 28 points, including 5 of 8 shooting from beyond the arc and 9 of 9 on free throws.
“When we allow guys to catch and shoot, it’s like shooting a free throw,” said UMaine coach Richard Barron. “It’s an easy rhythm shot and it counts for three points so when our hands are down, we can’t raise them up late and expect that’s somehow going to affect the ball after it’s left their hands.”
Princeton also defended without fouling, particularly after switching to a zone midway through the first half. UMaine took just two free throws in the game and missed both while Princeton made 20 of 28 from the line.
“We were in zone quite a bit, and sometimes that forces you to settle for some shots on the perimeter,” said Princeton coach Mitch Henderson in explaining UMaine’s lack of free throws. “If you had asked me that question and I was on the other end of it, that’s a great question to stoke a coach up. But I thought we did a good job of not fouling.”
UMaine is 0-7 this season heading into Saturday’s return to the road at St. Peter’s of Jersey City, New Jersey. The loss was the Black Bears’ 14th straight overall since an 82-79 overtime victory at Binghamton last Feb. 3.
“Coming into today we were confident. We’re trying to keep our hopes up, and we’re committed to figuring this out,” said UMaine junior forward Andrew Fleming, who had 19 points, nine rebounds and four assists while playing all 40 minutes.
“Today definitely hurt. We didn’t execute the way we wanted to and we didn’t stay committed to what we need to stay committed to, but we have practice Friday and we’re going to bring it and we’re going to turn this around.”
Redshirt junior guard Isaiah White also scored 19 points for UMaine, 15 during the game’s first 15 minutes.
“We were really worried about (White) and I was really worried about their size,” said Henderson. “The zone helped us a lot tonight and I think it bothered them. They made some really nice adjustments but it got us the lead.”
Six different Tigers made at least one 3-pointer as Princeton moved out to a 36-25 halftime lead.
Canady and reserve forward Ryan Schwieger scored eight points each to lead a balanced offense while Princeton’s defense limited UMaine to 36 percent (11 of 31) shooting overall, 3 of 12 from beyond the arc.
“We lost our offensive rhythm when they went to a zone in the first half,” said Barron. “That’s the first time this year we’ve seen a lot of extended possessions of zone and it really took the wind out of our sails.”
White scored 15 of UMaine’s first 19 points and assisted on a give-and-go slam by Fleming as the Black Bears stayed within 25-19 until Princeton buried three straight 3-pointers while building its lead to double digits.
Fleming tried to keep Maine close with 14 second-half points, including a 3-pointer from the key that narrowed the gap to 43-34 with 14:47 left.
But Cannady pulled up for a 25-foot 3-pointer to answer Fleming’s trifecta and later countered a two-handed slam by White with a 30-footer good for three more points along with a layup as Princeton expanded its lead to 55-38 with 11 minutes remaining.
UMaine clawed back within 57-47 on a drive by freshman Terion Moss of Portland and a pull-up shot from the lane by White with 7:16 remaining, but the Black Bears got no closer as Princeton made eight straight free throws to stretch its advantage to as much as 72-53 on two Cannady free throws with 2:23 to play.
“Mentally I think we’re a strong group,” said White. “The last thing we’re going to do is give up, and I think that’s a credit to the coaches.”