College basketball has its dog days much like Major League Baseball, that busy time fairly deep into the season when fatigue can come into play before the stretch drive provides renewed adrenaline.
The University of Maine men’s basketball team may have been a victim of both the dog days of the America East schedule as well as a solid UMass Lowell defense during a 60-52 loss to the River Hawks at the Cross Insurance Center on Tuesday night.
“We looked tired. We were playing our third game in five days and they hadn’t played in a week,” UMaine coach Richard Barron said. “The first half we were uncharacteristically impatient on offense and turned it over and that led to transition opportunities.”
UMaine absorbed its fourth straight loss and fell to 4-17 overall, 1-9 in America East play while UMass Lowell ended its two-game losing streak and is now 11-9, 3-5 in the conference.
“I thought our defense was really good,” said UMass Lowell coach Pat Duquette, whose team limited UMaine to 32 percent (18 of 56) shooting from the field. “It’s been good most of the season and I thought it was really good tonight. Sometimes we struggle to score points, but our shots were falling in the first half and that helped.”
Allin Blunt, a 6-foot-7 senior forward, led UMass Lowell with 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the field, including 3 for 3 from beyond the 3-point arc. Sophomore forward Max Brooks added 13 points, seven rebounds and five blocked shots while senior guard Everette Hammond scored 11 points.
Junior guard Maks Klanjscek led UMaine with 16 points and junior guard Ja’Shonte Wright-McLeish added 12, but leading scorer Vukasin Masic, who had averaged 18 points per game during the Black Bears’ previous four outings, was held scoreless on 0-for-8 shooting over 24 minutes.
“Vukasin struggled to shoot the ball, and some of that was maybe some shot selection but certainly credit Lowell’s defense, they were physical with us,” Barron said.
UMass Lowell held a 34-22 lead after a first half with its share of statistical oddities, among them that UMaine committed 12 turnovers before UMass Lowell committed its first foul with 3:53 left before intermission.
Neither team made a free throw in the opening 20 minutes, with UMaine’s Stephane Ingo taking the only two attempts.
UMaine had four more turnovers (13) than field goals (9) by halftime, and the UMass Lowell defense, which was averaging 7.8 steals per contest, was credited with 10 steals in the first half alone.
UMass Lowell converted those Black Bears’ turnovers into 20 first-half points.
A 3-pointer by Klanjscek gave UMaine a 5-4 lead 2:20 into the contest before UMass Lowell ran off nine unanswered points to build a 13-5 lead it did not relinquish.
Kalil Thomas gave the River Hawks the lead with a fast-break 3-pointer with 17:05 left in the first half, then Brooks had back-to-back slam dunks before Blunt hit a pull-up jumper to prompt a UMaine timeout with 15:23 left until the break.
The UMass Lowell lead grew to as much as 32-17 on a post-up move by Brooks with 4:25 left before Wright-McLeish buried a 3-pointer after a steal by Masic and Klanjscek scored on a drive after grabbing an offensive rebound to draw the Black Bears closer heading into halftime.
UMaine rallied within 41-34 when freshman guard Byron Ireland, who hadn’t played until the 15:46 mark of the second half, came in and scored three straight Black Bear baskets, the third a shot clock-beating, left-handed scoop shot to cut the deficit to seven with 12:17 left in the game.
UMass Lowell scored 10 of the next 13 points to regain control, a three-minute stretch that began with a 3-pointer from the right of the key by Thomas and ended with another triple by Blunt from the left corner to make it 51-37 with 8:16 remaining.
UMaine, which shot just 9 of 31 (29 percent) after intermission, got no closer than 11 points the rest of the way.
“I was proud of the way we fought back in the second half,” Barron said. “We missed a lot of shots close to the rim, and if some of them fell it may have been a different outcome.”