Maine assistant coach Jai Steadman gives instructions from the bench during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. Tuesday, Nov. 9 2021. Credit: Matt Gentry / The Roanoke Times via AP

The University of Vermont men’s basketball program is what the University of Maine Black Bears aspire to be one day in a lot of ways.

The Catamounts arrived in Bangor on Tuesday night not only having already clinched the America East regular-season championship but ranked 64th nationally in the NCAA Division I NET rankings and receiving votes for the Associated Press Top 25.

UMaine, meanwhile, already had played itself out of the conference tournament picture and in playing its final game of the season proved itself no match for Vermont as the Catamounts rolled to a 75-56 victory at the Cross Insurance Center.

Coach John Becker’s club concluded its regular season with a 25-5 record and tied an AE record for most conference victories in a season with its 17-1 record.

The Catamounts, which now own 21 consecutive victories over UMaine, will open the conference tournament at home on Saturday.

UMaine, which entered the contest ranked 353rd out of 358 schools in the NCAA NET Rankings, ends its season at 6-23 overall, 3-15 in America East — with those conference wins the Black Bears’ only Division I victories of the season.

The Black Bears struggled offensively against a rangy Vermont defense, shooting just 33 percent from the field (20 of 59) overall. When forced to the perimeter they had even less success, making just 3 of 18 3-point tries, or 16.7 percent.

“We missed some easy shots to start the game,” said UMaine interim head coach Jai Steadman, whose team finished with a 1-3 record under his watch. “It’s two games in a row when we just couldn’t hit shots – the coaches were counting and we missed nine layups — and you just can’t defend against a great team like that.

“The kids were fighting and fighting and fighting but when you’re missing bunnies … they’re a great team and you can’t do that.”

Senior center Ryan Davis led Vermont with 16 points and seven rebounds while Ben Shungu, Aaron Deloney and redshirt sophomore forward Nick Fiorillo of Scarborough each added 14.

Fiorillo came off the Catamounts bench to shoot 6-of-12 from the field, 2 of 5 on 3-pointers, and also grabbed seven rebounds in 19 minutes of duty.

“As the season has gone on I’ve seen more minutes and tonight we wanted to rest up some of our guys and give them a breather before our big playoff run,” said Fiorillo, who began the night averaging 3.5 points and 2.5 rebounds in 12.7 minutes per outing while playing in all 29 of Vermont’s games.

“So to be able to get some extended minutes and extended runs, I was able to just flow a little better and score better than I have in some games.”

Sophomore forward Peter Filipovity led UMaine with nine points while freshman guard Byron Ireland added seven. Sophomore guard Vukasin Masic contributed game-high totals of 10 rebounds and five assists to go with five points for the Black Bears, while redshirt junior forward Stephane Ingo overcame foul trouble to register six blocked shots.

Vermont scored the game’s first eight points and limited the Black Bears to 27 percent shooting from the field (9 of 33) while building a 38-24 halftime lead.

UMaine had difficulty finishing its inside shots against the Catamounts’ front line, a group that got a considerable early boost from the 6-foot-7 Fiorillo, who contributed nine points on 4-of-5 shooting and five rebounds during the game’s opening 20 minutes.

Fiorillo made a layup and a 3-pointer from the right corner to extend Vermont’s lead to 18-5 and prompt a UMaine timeout with 11:21 left in the half.

Vermont took its largest lead of the half at 36-18 after a 3-pointer and a left-handed drive by Shungu with 2:18 remaining.

While UMaine was struggling to connect offensively before intermission, Vermont shot 52 percent (16 of 31) from the field.

Vermont extended its second-half lead to as many as 23 points at 65-42 when Deloney – another reserve for the Catamounts – made a 3-pointer from the right wing off a Fiorillo assist with 6:28 remaining.

“It was great to come home,” Fiorillo said. “I hadn’t played basketball in this state for two years since high school. I red-shirted my first year and didn’t travel, and last year was the COVID year and Maine played two games up in Burlington so I hadn’t played any basketball in Maine except for just training.

“It was good to play in front of some close family and close friends that I don’t get to see a lot anymore because I’m in school.”

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...