Junior guard Ja’Shonte Wright-McLeish passes the ball during a UMaine game against Colorado in November 2021. Credit: Courtesy of UMaine Athletics

Small victories are not so small when they come amid a longer struggle, so the University of Maine men’s basketball team will enjoy what it gained from Saturday’s 86-50 victory over the University of New England at Memorial Gymnasium on the Orono campus.

Of particular note for the Black Bears was their 3-point shooting.

UMaine, now 3-6 overall with all of its victories over small-college opponents, entered the contest ranked 350th and last among NCAA Division 1 programs in 3-point shooting at 21.34 percent – more than two points behind 349th-ranked South Florida at 24.18 percent.

But the Black Bears connected on 36.7 percent of their long-range tries (11 of 30) against a Division III UNE team whose record fell to 1-10.

Junior guard Ja’Shonte Wright-McLeish was the most accurate of the Black Bears, making 4 of 5 3-pointers against UNE’s 1-2-2 zone defense after making just one 3-pointer in UMaine’s first eight games.

“It felt good seeing the ball go through finally and having that confidence,” said Wright-McLeish, who scored a team-high 15 points. “I feel like all of my confidence is back from shooting, and not only mine but the whole team’s confidence because we’ve been struggling for the whole season.”

Much of UMaine’s shooting success – 34 of 65 overall, or 52.3 percent – was triggered by ball movement, as the Black Bears had 26 assists on their 34 field goals and committed just seven turnovers.

Sophomore point guard Vukasin Masic was pivotal in that effort, as the transfer from Hofstra not only scored 11 points but dished out 10 assists without a turnover.

“He was very patient today and he was seeing everything,” Wright-McLeish said. “He wasn’t forcing passes, he was just sharing the ball and the 10 assists proves that he was patient. He was sharing the ball to the shooters and we were making the shots.”

Freshman forward Novak Perovic added 10 points and five rebounds for UMaine, which will seek its first Division I victory of the season against 4-8 Merrimack in a 5 p.m. start Tuesday at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.

“It’s good to get the rust off coming out of final exams, and it’s nice to see the ball go through the basket,” UMaine coach Richard Barron said. “We’ve struggled shooting the ball, but to see some guys like [Wright-McLeish] get off to a good start shooting the ball was good for their confidence, and doing it against a team that plays a lot of zone will prepare us for Merrimack.”

The victory ended a four-game losing streak for UMaine, which continues to play without its leading player back from last winter. Stephane Ingo, a 6-foot-9 redshirt junior forward, suffered a broken right wrist during UMaine’s 71-52 victory over UMaine-Farmington on Nov. 12 and recently underwent surgery. He expects to return to action in six to eight weeks.

UNE proved to be a pesky opponent at the outset, scoring seven straight points to take a 10-7 lead and battling the Black Bears to a 15-15 stalemate through nine minutes of play before UMaine went on a 25-9 run ignited by defense and capped off by long-range shooting.

UMaine made just one of its first six attempts from beyond the arc, but junior guard LeChaun   DuHart’s 3-pointer from beyond the key pushed the Black Bears’ lead to 28-17 with 8:08 left in the half and started their 5-for-7 run from long range over the next three minutes.

Masic followed a UNE free throw with a 3-pointer, then fed Wright-McLeish and Maks Klanjscek for trifectas before striking again from long range to give UMaine its largest lead of the half, 40-24 with 3:21 remaining.

Masic led the Black Bears to their 42-27 lead at the break with nine points and four assists, while 7-1 graduate transfer center Chris Efretuei and Wright-McLeish each scored seven points and DuHart added six.

UNE’s Alex Kravchuk, a 6-foot graduate guard, scored 11 of his game-high 17 points in the first half, while teammate Drake Gavin added 12 points and seven rebounds.

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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...