The University of Maine men’s basketball team carried its momentum from an energetic victory on Sunday into Wednesday night’s home showdown with the University of Massachusetts Lowell.
In a much-anticipated rematch after a close loss on the road earlier in the season, UMaine took down the River Hawks 75-70 for its second win in a row behind hustle plays and 18 points from Kristian Feierbergs.
The Black Bears (8-12) are learning how to win and finish games.
“I felt after five losses there was a little bit of desperation coming into Binghamton,” UMaine coach Chris Markwood said of the team’s two-game win streak. “We still have a long way to go but a small sample of Sunday and today, the details in how hard you have to play to win produced two wins. Hopefully we can build off of that and spark something in us moving forward.”
Late in the second half, after an easy baseline layup from Clayton that gave the Black Bears a 54-52 lead, Fofo Adetogun and Feierberg took back-to-back charges on defense to get the bench and crowd on their feet with about five minutes to play.
The energy in the Cross Insurance Center exploded after the two hustle plays from the Black Bears. Later, Feierbergs hit back-to-back threes and gave UMaine a 64-57 lead with 4:34 left to play.
“Amazing,” Feierbergs said of how the 3-pointers felt. “Hitting shots like that, it’s great. … Coach said we can play our best basketball but we still need to make winning plays and we did that tonight.”
Feierbergs took an off-ball charge with less than three minutes left in the game. On the ensuing UMaine possession, Gedi Juozapaitis rose above his defender and scored a floater on the right side of the paint as the shot clock buzzer went off, giving UMaine a 68-61 lead with 2:20 left.
Feierbergs, Ata Turgut and Ja’Shonte Wright-McLeish had their hands full with talented Lowell big men Abdoul Karim Coulibaly and Max Brooks but held their own.
With a 70-65 lead, Kellen Tynes sank the back-end of two free throws, then after a stop on defense Peter Filipovity made two free throws to put the Black Bears ahead 73-65.
Tynes finished with 15 points, while Filipovity poured in 11 off the bench.
Jaden Clayton hit two more with nine seconds left to seal the win.
UMaine held the River Hawks (17-5) to 40 percent shooting from the field and forced them into 17 turnovers. Markwood said the team is starting to buy in on the defensive end.
“I’ve said all year that this team has a chance to be really good defensively but we have to buy in and we have to look at ourselves as that and I don’t think we had done that all year, individually and collectively,” Markwood said.
Feierbergs led the Black Bears with 18 points on Wednesday night.
“Kristians is a really talented young man,” Markwood said. “We’ve talked about it. I don’t think he knows how good he is, but he’s really starting to figure that out. The beauty of it is, when he does it like tonight and Sunday, he gets rewarded with playing really well.”
UMaine jumped out to a big lead midway through the first half.
Turgut scored a floater at the rim with six minutes to play in the first half to cap a 9-2 run for the Black Bears that gave UMaine a 30-19 advantage.
Lowell scored twice before Feierbergs hit a 3-pointer with 3:08 left in the half to put UMaine up 33-25.
“As a spectator, it would be nice to watch us play,” Feierbergs said of UMaine’s offense. “When I’m on the bench, it’s nice to watch because the ball is flowing, the offense is great.”
With one minute to play in the half, Tynes missed a layup on the fast break but swung around a defender and grabbed his own offensive rebound and put the ball right back up and in, a bucket that gave UMaine a 37-30 advantage.
The Black Bears went into halftime with a 37-33 lead.
Right out of the half, Lowell’s Alin Blunt drilled a 3-pointer and Coulibaly, who scored 10 points in the first half, scored a mid-range jumper to give the River Hawks a 38-37 lead, its first since the start of the game.
Coulibaly finished with 16 points to lead the team.
UMaine faces the University of Albany on the road at 7 p.m. on Saturday.
“I am really excited for our guys,” Markwood said. “We had some close games that ended up as losses but they’ve worked really hard, stayed together and battled in practice. To see them put it together against two really good teams, hopefully it shows them where they can be.”