The University of Maine had a knack for hanging around its first four America East men’s basketball games of the season — dropping its first four conference outings by an average of 7 points.
Such potential late-game drama wasn’t to be found at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor on Saturday afternoon, as Maryland Baltimore County scored 24 unanswered points during a 10 1/2-minute stretch of the first half and cruised to an 88-46 victory over the Black Bears.
“I didn’t see this coming,” University of Maine head coach Richard Barron said.
The Black Bears have been coping with injuries in recent days. Guards LeChaun DuHart and Sam Ihekwoaba returned for limited minutes against UMBC after being sidelined for three games and one game, respectively. Forward Stephane Ingo was back in uniform for the first time since undergoing surgery for a broken wrist suffered during a victory over Division III UMaine-Farmington back on Nov. 12, but did not play.
UMBC (7-10 overall, 2-4 in America East) made those issues largely a moot point by turning 21 UMaine turnovers into 35 points and blending 11 3-pointers with the work often closer to the basket of Nathan Johnson, Keondre Kennedy and Yaw Obeng-Mensah, who combined for 44 points, 19 rebounds, six assists and six steals.
The Retrievers also made 19 of 21 free throws, including all 11 of their attempts during a first half that ended with UMBC holding a 45-20 lead.
UMaine, 3-13 overall, 0-5 in conference play and still in search of its first Division I victory of the year, actually got off to a surprisingly good start.
The Black Bears entered the game shooting just 26 percent from beyond the 3-point arc but went 3-for-4 from long distance during the first 2 1/2 minutes.
Sophomore guard Adefolarin Adetogun fed junior guard Maks Klanjscek for a 3-pointer on UMaine’s first shot of the game and then knocked down two 3-pointers of his own to give his team a 9-4 lead with 17:32 left in the first half.
But after that 3-of-4 start from beyond the arc, UMaine made just 1 of its final 20 3-point tries while UMBC shot a healthy 11 of 26 (42.3 percent) from deep range.
The Retrievers held the Black Bears scoreless for the next 10 minutes and 32 seconds after Adetogun’s second 3-pointer, with UMaine shooting 0 for 12 from the field and committing seven turnovers before Ihekwoaba finally ended his team’s scoring drought by making the second of two free-throw tries with 7:00 left until intermission.
By that time UMBC was en route to ending its three-game losing streak by scoring 24 straight points, a run filled with variety.
The Retrievers found nourishment on the offensive boards, from 3-point land and by driving the lane as Kennedy scored seven points and Obeng-Mensah had six, including a post move and a jumper from the lane that combined to extend the margin to 28-9 with 7:45 left in the half.
By intermission, UMBC had converted 11 UMaine turnovers into 22 points and outscored the Black Bears 16-6 in the paint and 11-3 on second-chance opportunities.
The Retrievers showed no signs of letting down after the break, scoring the first nine points of the second half as senior guard L.J. Owens made two 3-pointers and Johnson worked inside for a three-point play that made it 54:20 with 18:07 remaining.
Adetogun scored a team-high 10 points for UMaine while Ihekwoaba netted seven points in 18 minutes and freshman forward Kristians Feierbergs grabbed a game-high nine rebounds.
There’s little time for UMaine to dwell on the lopsided loss, as the Black Bears now face two games in three nights in their border war with the University of New Hampshire. The rivals will meet at 7 p.m. Monday at the Cross Center, followed by a return game at the same time Wednesday in Durham, New Hampshire.