The University of Maine men’s basketball team scored its least amount of points of the season on Sunday afternoon, but it was enough to take down Merrimack College in a 50-47 victory on the road.
The Black Bears move to 6-4, equaling the number of wins they earned all of last season.
“I think it’s huge, in the phase that we’re in as a program, when you’re trying to build; our guys are competing at a high level every game,” UMaine head coach Chris Markwood said. “I told the guys I am ultra proud of them. Those are the tough ones and the good teams find a way to win and we did. Lot to learn from but we got the win.”
Down 26-23 at the half, UMaine battled its way back into the contest.
With 11:12 left in the game, UMaine guard Jaden Clayton scored a jumper at the left elbow to get the Black Bears within 32-31.
On the next possession, Clayton stole the ball away from the Warriors and found Gedi Juozapaitis for a layup that gave UMaine the 33-32 lead and the team’s first advantage since the score was 6-4 in the opening minutes.
Clayton then stole the ball back again and found backcourt teammate Kellen Tynes for a smooth layup on the fast break that upped the UMaine lead to 35-32 with 10 minutes left.
Kristians Feierbergs scored a tip-in to increase the UMaine lead to 37-32, the team’s biggest lead to that point. The bucket was off a rebound from the Black Bears’ 12th-missed three-pointer of the game.
“It’s unique how Merrimack plays,” Markwood said. “They’re really good in the two-three zone. The hard thing with them is traditionally you go against that and you get open looks from three, but they’re really good at taking away the three-point line.”
It wasn’t until the 4:32 mark when Ja’Shonté Wright-McLiesh hit a three-pointer that the Black Bears scored from beyond the arc. The made basket moved UMaine to 1-15 from three. Wright-McLiesh’s three put UMaine ahead 44-37 with 4:32, the team’s largest lead of the game.
Jordan Minor of Merrimack answered with a bucket of his own to cut the lead to 44-39 as part of his 19-point game.
With 2:50 left, Tynes stole the ball and got fouled at the hoop. Tynes hit both free throws and put UMaine ahead 48-41.
“He’s just a game changer,” Markwood said of Tynes. “There’s a certain guy you coach that does elite things, things you can’t coach. He has really good size, long arms and ultra quick feet. More important than all that he wants to defend, he had a defensive mentality. I recruited him in high school and watched him play Posh Alexander who is now at St. John’s and he stole the ball six times. He has a knack for the ball. He has really good timing off the ball and on the ball. It’s an innate thing that he has.”
Ziggy Reid and Mykel Derring scored back-to-back buckets to pull the Warriors back into the game late, making it 48-45 with 1:36 to play.
Tynes later earned one of his five steals of the game and found Juozapaitis who got fouled on a shot. Juozapaitis sank both free throws and with 51 seconds left UMaine was hanging onto a 50-45 advantage.
Reid scored on a pull-up jumper with 33 seconds left, cutting the deficit to 50-47, but Merrimack would miss two shots late, sealing the win for the Black Bears.
Tynes paced UMaine with 12 points, while Peter Filipovity (11 points) and Juozapaitis (10) were also in double digits for the Black Bears.
UMaine and Merrimack were tied at 10-10 in the first half with 11:50 to play. From that point to the 7:56 mark, Merrimack went on an 11-2 run to go ahead 21-12, the game’s biggest lead.
The Black Bears will travel to the University of Akron for a game on Monday, Dec. 19, before then traveling to Ohio State University on the following Wednesday.
Merrimack is now 2-11 on the year and will play Bucknell next Sunday.