Vilgot Larsson scored a career-high 23 points and Sergio El Darwich added 18 as the University of Maine held off New Hampshire 62-53 in an America East men’s basketball game the Cross Insurance Center on Sunday.

The win — on UMaine coach Richard Barron’s 50th birthday — came in the aftermath of a 78-59 victory at Massachusetts Lowell last Wednesday and marked the first time the Black Bears have won back-to-back games since wins over Holy Cross and Dartmouth on Dec. 7 and 10, 2016.

It also marked the first back-to-back conference wins for UMaine since it defeated Hartford and Binghamton on Jan. 27 and 30, 2016.

“For me personally it’s one of the more satisfying games this year,” said Barron. “It’s not the best game we’ve played and certainly not the best that we’ve shot but we overcame a little adversity and some situations that in other games this year we would have let affect the way we felt about ourselves defensively. I thought that was a step forward for us today.”

UMaine (5-18 overall, 3-5 in America East) had to withstand a flurry of 3-point shooting by UNH (3-18, 1-7 AE) in the second half, as the Wildcats shot 8 of 16 from beyond the arc after intermission.

A 3-pointer by David Watkins capped off a 9-0 UNH run stemming entirely from shots from beyond the arc and gave the Wildcats a 48-45 lead with 8:09 to play.

But Vincent Eze came off the UMaine bench to score twice from the lane and give the Black Bears the lead for good at 49-48 with 7:17 left, and the redshirt junior center then fed El Darwich for another basket from the low post.

UMaine got some key defensive stands to protect the lead, among them two blocked shots and a steal by Isaiah White as well as a forced 10-second violation against UNH after Larsson completed a fast-break three-point play to give the Bears a 56-51 edge with 2:06 left.

“I think when the momentum shifted was on Vince, and then even when we got it to six and they’d hit a three we maintained it enough,” said Barron.

UNH did close within 56-53 on two free throws by Nick Guadarrama with 1:14 left and got the ball back with a chance to tie, but Watkins’ contested 3-point try from deep along the right wing missed and White, El Darwich and Larsson each made two free throws in the final 23 seconds to put the game away.

While junior forward Andrew Fleming, coming off his 38-point outburst at Mass Lowell, was the focus of the New Hampshire defense and scored just five points on 1 of 11 shooting to go with a game-high 11 rebounds and four assists, Larsson and El Darwich picked up much of the offensive slack.

Larsson, the sophomore forward from Stockholm, Sweden, shot 8 of 13 from the field overall and 4 of 7 from 3-point land to pace the Black Bears offensively.

“Andrew collapses the defense a lot, especially after his last game, so I felt I would have a little more space than usual,” said Larsson, who scored 17 points during the first half. “I just tried to stay ready and knock down the shots I was free to take.”

El Darwich made 8 of 12 from the field and scored 12 points after intermission, mostly on shots from the paint where UMaine outscored UNH 32-8.

“Coach put me under the basket and said you have space to do whatever you want,” said El Darwich, who also contributed four rebounds, four assists and three steals. “So I tried to do whatever I could to help the team keep scoring and made the shots.”

Jordan Reed made 5 of 8 3-pointers for UNH and finished with a team-high 18 points, while Watkins scored 10.

“If you told me we’d come up here and (Fleming) would be 1 for 11 and Eze would play eight minutes, I’d say we’d have a good chance to win and we did have a chance,” said UNH coach Bill Herrion. “I was very, very disappointed with our perimeter defense on Larsson in the first half, and then they took advantage of our guards on post-ups and El Darwich killed us in the second half.”

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Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...