University of Maine’s Kellen Tynes (1), Jaden Clayton (3) and teammates react to a play in the second half of their game against UMaine Augusta in Orono on Dec. 8. The Black Bears won 103-67. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

The University of Maine men’s basketball team lost a heartbreaker at home against Harvard University on Wednesday night, 74-73, in overtime at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.

Gedi Juozapaitis, who is ninth in America East in points per game (13.8), drilled a 3-pointer off a screen as time expired in regulation to force the five-minute overtime. While the senior hit another 3-pointer at the end of OT, the Black Bears fell just short.

Wednesday’s epic was one of many close losses UMaine has already experienced in its first 13 games. With the non-conference schedule behind them and the America East schedule on the horizon — UMaine’s first game is at the University of Massachusetts Lowell on Jan. 5 — the Black Bears will have to shore up some things.

“You look at the whole non-conference and there are some frustrating losses and you can throw this one into the mix,” Markwood said after the Harvard game. “Three or four one, two, three possession games where you wish you had a better opportunity at those. But, you know, I think I look at it the way I knew we’d look at it. It’s the non-conference, there will be ups and downs and all of the adversity will help us be a better team when it matters.”

Markwood is right. UMaine has lost to Fordham, Brown, Marist and Harvard by an average of 3.5 points. If a couple of possessions here and there had changed, the Black Bears would be looking at a winning record heading into the game against UMass Lowell.

UMaine has eight conference games in January and will quickly learn what works and what doesn’t in America East, but finishing games strong will certainly be a point of emphasis going forward.

The Black Bears are down to 258th in the latest NCAA Net Rankings, but are still ahead of America East opponents New Hampshire (310), University of Albany (317), New Jersey Institute of Technology (329) and Binghamton (348). After being picked to finish last in the conference, UMaine has a chance to surprise a lot of people in January and February.

Against Harvard, UMaine fell behind quickly in overtime.

Evan Nelson hit a mid-range jumper just 26 seconds into the period for Harvard, followed by a block by the Crimson’s Chisom Okpara and two free throws on the ensuing possession by Chris Ledlum that made it a 71-67 game with 3:53 to play in overtime.

UMaine couldn’t climb back into the game and fell to 6-7 on the season.

Still, there were positives.

Juozapaitis, who at one point was 1-of-6 from behind the 3-point line, hit several crucial 3-pointers against Harvard in regulation and overtime. Unfortunately for UMaine, there wasn’t enough time to take the lead in overtime, but Juozapaitis never wavered.

A leader on the team, Juozapaitis is growing from UMaine’s rollercoaster non-conference ride.

“We’re excited,” Juozapaitis said. “We know what this team is capable of. We haven’t really shown it, but we know it. We have a little time to learn from this game, prepare for the next game and we’ll be ready.”

Juozapaitis said the Black Bears haven’t shown what they are capable of yet, but you could make the case they have.

UMaine was trailing by 14 in its opener against Nebraska of the Big 10 Conference but pulled within two points midway through the second half. It got into the win column with a big victory over UMaine Fort Kent next, followed by an upset road win at Boston College. After winning just six games a year ago, the victory put the Black Bears on the map and began the next chapter of the basketball program.

The Black Bears then beat Columbia and Central Connecticut before three losses in which the Black Bears held leads in the final five minutes of the game ( Brown, Fordham and Marist). UMaine also had a lead in the final minute of the game against Harvard.

If the Black Bears had held onto those leads, the record and the general energy around the team would be much higher.

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“We need to finish games off and that’s what the non-conference schedule prepares you for,” Juozapaitis said. “I think we’re ready for the conference schedule.”

Two more wins came against UMaine Augusta and Merrimack before two tough losses to Akron and Ohio State.

Another bright spot for UMaine is its depth. Against Harvard, five players scored in double figures. Markwood has often talked up the team’s depth on offense, with players Kellen Tynes, Jaden Clayton, Peter Filipovity, Kristians Feierbergs or Juozapaitis getting buckets when needed.

Tynes has been a huge addition for the Black Bears this season after two years at Montana State. The shifty guard is second in the country in steals per game (3.2) and also is first in America East in field goals made (74).

His backcourt teammate, Clayton, is leading the conference in assists per game (4.3).

In the frontcourt, Ata Turgut and Feierbergs have taken turns starting at the five position but have been playing similar minutes. Both can score at the hoop and from outside and contribute to the rotation of players Markwood has been trying out early in the season.

“Hopefully the experiences and adversity we faced, hopefully it makes us a better team after the new year,” Markwood said.

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Adam Robinson

Adam Robinson is a native of Auburn, Maine, and graduate of Husson University and Edward Little High School. He enjoys sports, going on runs and video games.