University of Maine Black Bears mens basketball team huddles during timeout against University of Maine Augusta in Orono on Dec. 8, 2022. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

The University of Maine men’s basketball team fought from as much as 13 points down in the second half but couldn’t regain the lead, falling to the University of Massachusetts Lowell 72-70 on the road in the Black Bears’ America East opener at the Costello Athletic Center.

Gedi Juozapaitis paced UMaine (6-8) with 18 points while Kellen Tynes poured in 12 points of his own.

Ja’Shonte Wright-McLeigh answered a UMass Lowell (13-2) basket with a bucket off his own miss, making it 58-56 with 6:30 to play. After a Lowell free throw, Kristians Feierbergs made two of his own from the stripe and brought UMaine all the way back to within one point, 59-58, with 5:45 left, after trailing by 13 earlier in the half.

With three minutes to play, Lowell’s Max Brooks slammed a dunk home and Ayinde Hikim followed with a fadeaway jumper from 12 feet to give the River Hawks some insurance on their lead, 67-61 with 2:21 remaining.

Tynes knocked in two free throws to make it 67-63 with 1:29 to play. The sophomore guard then made a stop on the defensive end and called a timeout for UMaine with 1:02 left.

Out of the timeout, Brooks made a big block and the ball hit off a UMaine player that gave the River Hawks possession. Feierbergs answered with a block with 40 seconds left. Juozapaitis drove to the hoop on the ensuing UMaine possession and earned a foul and went to the free throw line with 23.7 seconds left.

The UMaine senior sank both free throws to cut the deficit to 67-65.

Hikim hit his first free throw after being fouled with 20 seconds left, but Brooks came sprinting in and grabbed the offensive rebound. Brooks scored both of his free throws and with 17 seconds Lowell held a 70-65 lead.

Freshman UMaine guard Jaden Clayton answered with a reverse layup with 8.2 seconds that made it a one-possession game, 70-67.

Hikim hit both of his free throws with five seconds left, then Juozapaitis drained a corner 3-pointer but ran out of time.

It was a back-and-forth game all night for the Black Bears against the America East’s top-ranked River Hawks.

Lowell was coming off a close victory over New Jersey Institute of Technology on Saturday for its first America East win of the season, and Thursday’s home showdown with the Black Bears was no different.

Lowell jumped out to a quick 11-4 lead over the Black Bears thanks to five points from Everette Hammond and four from Hikim.

Hammond led the way with 20 points on the night.

Tynes then found Wright-McLeish for a 3-pointer, followed by two layups from Clayton that helped the Black Bears tie the contest at 14-14 with 10 minutes to play in the first half.

Both teams turned the ball over six times a piece and shot similarly from the field, except for Lowell senior Connor Withers.

Withers hit all five of his 3-pointers in the first half, swishing every one of them to help the River Hawks to a 38-29 lead at the half. Withers’ career-high threes in a game coming into Thursday’s home game was nine.

Outside of Withers’ hot shooting, UMass Lowell shot 1-8 from beyond the arc, while UMaine was 2-6.

After Withers’ first triple, Tynes hit his third three of the season to tie the game at 19-19, followed by a bucket off the glass from Gedi Juozapaitis that gave UMaine a 21-19 lead, its first since the start of the game’s 2-0 lead Tynes earned.

From 6:52 to the 55 second mark, Withers hit his next four 3-pointers and UMass Lowell entered halftime with a lot of momentum.

Juozapaitis, who entered the game averaging 13.8 points per game, had eight at the break.

Withers began his second half shooting with an air ball but on the next possession, Hikim was fouled and made two free throws to give the River Hawks a 47-34 lead, its largest of the game.

Juozapaitis answered at a crucial time for the Black Bears with a floater in the lane, followed by a 3-pointer from Wright-McLeish that cut the deficit to 47-39 with 14:43 to play in the contest.

The two America East squads traded layups with Tynes scoring and getting fouled, making the free throw for the old-fashioned three-point play that cut the UMass Lowell lead to 51-44.

With 11:45 to go, Wright-McLeish scored at the hoop off a nice feed from Peter Filipovity. After a layup from Yuri Covington of the River Hawks, Juozapaitis sank a 3-pointer that pulled UMaine within 53-49 with 11 minutes left.

A couple minutes later, Filipovity grabbed an offensive rebound off a missed layup and got fouled on a shot attempt. Filipovity made a free throw and cut the UMass Lowell lead to 55-52 with 8:16 to play.

On the next UMaine possession, Wright-McLeish found Filipovity with a smooth pass that wrapped around his defender under the hoop with Filipovity finishing the possession with an easy basket to make it 55-54.

UMass Lowell’s Hammond hit a free throw after Brayden O’Connor hit a close shot and with seven minutes to play, the River Hawks held a 58-54 advantage.  

The Black Bears now turn their attention to NJIT, who will visit UMaine at The Pit on Sunday at 2 p.m.

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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.