The growing pains continue for the University of Maine men’s basketball team.
The Black Bears were within striking distance of their first America East victory for the third straight game at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor on Sunday afternoon, but junior guard Jacob Falko scored 16 of his game-high 22 points in the second half and Binghamton outscored UMaine 9-1 over the game’s final 3:27 to emerge with a 73-65 victory.
The loss drops UMaine to 3-11 overall and 0-3 in conference play, with those three AE losses coming by an average of 6.3 points.
The Black Bears also remain in search of their first NCAA Division I victory of the season, with their three victories coming against in-state, small-college programs.
Binghamton, which began the season as the only team trailing UMaine in the 10-team America East preseason coaches poll, continued its fast start in conference play and now is 3-1 in the league and 6-7 overall.
“Being picked to finish last in the league, I felt like a lot of us felt it was disrespectful,” said Falko, a transfer from Gardner-Webb. “So to come out 3-1 in conference, I just feel like we’re just playing with a chip on our shoulder.”
Falko scored 12 of his second-half points on six drives to the basket after establishing mismatches on the perimeter.
“In the second half I feel like we just spaced the floor a little better,” he said. “I recognized they started to play zone a little more so our coach was just drawing up a stack play where we come off a ball screen. Pretty much the middle was open the whole time so I was just trying my best to get in there and make plays, finish some and kick some out.”
Falko also made a 3-pointer from the right of the key to give Binghamton a 64-62 lead before UMaine forged its last tie on a baseline drive by sophomore forward Peter Filipovity — the Black Bears’ final field goal of the contest — with 4 minutes left
Sophomore point guard John McGriff, a transfer from St. John’s, then fed junior guard Christian Hinckson for another 3-pointer with 3:27 left.
After UMaine freshman Byron Ireland connected on 1 of 2 from the line after a steal, Falko made a left-handed drive to give Binghamton a 69-65 edge, and the Bearcats made 4 of 5 from the free-throw lines during the final two minutes.
“In some ways we knew we were going to open up some driving lanes to take away the 3’s from them, and for the most part I thought we did a good job of taking away the 3’s,” said UMaine head coach Richard Barron, whose team limited Binghamton to 5-of-18 accuracy from beyond the arc.
“We did give up the one from the corner late, and that was a critical moment.”
Binghamton also benefited from its work on the backboards, out rebounding UMaine 42-28 overall and turning an 18-12 advantage on the offensive glass into a 15-5 edge in second-chance points.
“The big problem with the game for me was the rebounding,” Barron said. “The number of second-chance points they were able to get was significant. There were times we did some things well but we didn’t finish the play with the rebound.”
McGriff finished with 18 points, 15 during the first half that Binghamton concluded with a 42-37 lead, while junior guard Tyler Bertram added 10 points and Hinckson had nine points and a team-high seven rebounds.
Freshman guard Sam Ihekwoaba, the two-time reigning America East Rookie of the Week, came off the bench to lead UMaine with 13 points as UMaine’s reserves outscored Binghamton’s bench 33-6.
Ihekwoaba added four assists and three steals for the Black Bears, who were playing without their two leading scorers in injured junior guard LeChaun DuHart and sophomore guard Vukasin Masic, who was dressed but did not play.
Filipovity contributed 12 points and six rebounds while Kristians Feierbergs, Ata Turgut and Ja’Shonte Wright-McLeish scored eight points each. Wright-McLeish also had a game-high four steals.
“There’s not a huge change in the story here,” Barron said. “There were a lot of things that were positive and a lot of things where we came up short.”