The University of Maine men’s basketball team lost its seventh game in a row Saturday afternoon at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
In a scene that has become so familiar with the Black Bears, they held a 14-point lead in the second half after a hot shooting first half. Saturday’s game initially looked different, like UMaine had turned the corner, as it held a 45-34 lead at the half.
UMaine shot 8-13 from the 3-point line in the first half, followed by a 5-17 performance in the second half. From the field in the second half the Black Bears were a dismal 31.25-percent.
The UMBC Retrievers turned their fortunes around in the second half, shooting 68-percent from the field in the final 20 minutes and 16-20 from the free throw line. The high-level scoring brought UMBC from down 14 to a 70-69 lead in 9:25 off a jumper from Yaw Obeng-Mensah.
UMBC outscored UMaine 15-10 in the final 5:26 and won 87-77, as the Black Bears fell to 0-4 in America East play.
The Black Bears’ defense has struggled mightily this winter. In the NCAA, UMaine is 349th at defensive field goal percentage at the rim, with opponents shooting 66-percent. The Black Bears are also 330th in opponents’ effective field goal percentage at 53.4-percent.
Height is also an issue for the Black Bears. Of players in the regular rotation for the Black Bears, Ata Turgut is the tallest listed player at 6-foot-9. Next is Kristians Feierbergs at 6-8. Rarely do the two share the floor together, so many times either player has to be the team’s big man on the floor. Quite often the Black Bears give up a lot of size.
In the game before its UMBC loss, UMaine gave up four 3-pointers in the final 2:30 of the first half against New Hampshire and went into halftime trailing by eight points. The team has shot 35.4-percent from beyond the 3-point line, which ranks the Black Bears 288th in the nation.
“It’s hard to make a comeback when a team hits four threes,” UMaine’s Gedi Juozapaitis said. “It’s something we have to improve on, staying disciplined and guarding the three point line and we will be in a real position to win games.”
After the disaster that was the end of the half, UMaine scored just four points against New Hampshire in the first seven minutes of the second half.
Getting stops has consistently been on the front of first-year head coach Chris Markwood’s mind this season.
“Basketball is a game of runs,” Markwood said after the UNH loss. “I think the big thing for us is that we haven’t been able to get stops consistently. Offense plays a role, and I’m sure there are possessions we’d like to have back, but we aren’t tough enough on the defensive end. I have to do a better job getting them ready, and we will keep grinding and working at it. It’s going to be a journey with this team, and we knew that.”
The ends of first halves have recently been an achilles heel for the Black Bears.
Against NJIT on Jan. 8, the Black Bears led 41-35 with 2:35 to play. In the final minutes of the half, NJIT tied the game at 41-41 and would go on to win, 91-83 in overtime.
After a layup by Feierbergs against UMass Lowell in the game before to make it 25-25 with six minutes to play in the first half, the River Hawks went on a 13-4 run to end the first half and would go on to edge out a 72-70 win over the Black Bears.
After UMaine’s non-conference schedule of six wins, as many total wins as the Black Bears had last season, including a big road victory over Boston College, the energy and morale around the team was strong.
The Black Bears had dropped games to Akron and Ohio State before a crushing OT loss to Harvard, but the team liked the direction it was heading in.
Another factor in UMaine’s recent skid is Peter Filipovity’s injury against New Hampshire on Wednesday. Filipovity hurt his hand against the Wildcats, and it is unclear when he’ll be back. It’s quite the loss for the Black Bears, as Filipovity averages 9.9 points per game, third most on the team, in just 21.7 minutes a game.
Now, 0-4 in the America East with Vermont, the winner of three of the last five America East tournaments, on Thursday, Markwood is trying to get the group back to its early-season winning ways.
The players can also feel the disappointment in recent results.
“We are still a brand-new team, and we’re still trying to figure it out. I’ve been part of it in my previous school with new coaching staff,” said Juozapaitis, who transferred to UMaine from Georgia Southern. “We have to keep grinding, and we have to believe. We can’t make losing a habit. We have to lock in and change the thing we’ve been doing.
“It’s not an excuse. We’re right there. We all like each other. We have great practices, but we need to learn to put everything on the floor and play the full 40 minutes.”