University of Maine women's basketball head coach Amy Vachon yells to the players during a Dec. 8 game against Fordham in Orono. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

The University of Maine women’s basketball registered a first in Saturday afternoon’s America East game but it is one the Black Bears will like to forget.

For the first time in head coach Amy Vachon’s six seasons, the Black Bears have lost three consecutive conference games as the New Jersey Institute of Technology won 56-54 at the Memorial Gym.

NJIT is now 12-12 overall and 7-5 in America East while UMaine fell to 12-12 and 8-4.

NJIT had four players in double figures led by freshman guard’s Alejandra Zuniga’s 16 points. She also had four assists and three rebounds.

Senior guard Kenna Squier contributed 11 points, including nine in the fourth quarter, and she also grabbed a game-high nine rebounds. Junior guard Ari Myers scored 10 points, five in the fourth period, and had three assists and three rebounds.

Sophomore forward Trinity Williams chipped in with 10 points and five rebounds.

Conference scoring and rebounding leader Adi Smith again paced UMaine with 23 points and eight rebounds. The sophomore forward also had two assists.

Junior guard Olivia Rockwood was the only other Black Bear in double figures with 10 points. She also had three rebounds and three steals.

Junior forward Caroline Bornemann had eight points and four rebounds and sophomore guard Paula Gallego also had eight points to go with four rebounds and four assists.

Squier’s traditional 3-point play witn 8:02 remaining in the game, on which Smith picked up her third foul, erased a 40-39 deficit and gave the Highlanders a lead they would never relinquish.

Smith had to come out of the game and was replaced by Abbe Laurence.

She returned with 4:33 left.

After Rockwood missed an open three on a fast break, the Highlanders grabbed the rebound and Myers fed Squier for a layup to make it 44-40.

Following a Laurence turnover, Zuniga fed Myers for a three to extend the lead to seven.

UMaine closed to within three on three occasions but the Highlanders always answered including an important Squier base line jumper with 2:01 left that bounced off the rim and went through to make it 52-46.

A Rockwood 3-pointer with 38 seconds left pulled UMaine within 56-53 and UMaine had one last chance to tie it but Boremann’s desperation three was well short.

Smith sank a free throw after grabbing the rebound and getting fouled with one tenth of a second remaining.

NJIT outscored UMaine 32-25 in the second half including 11-6 in the third period when UMaine shot a dismal 15.4 percent from the floor and missed all three of its three-pointers.

“We aren’t playing well right now,” said Vachon, whose Black Bears continue to be without reigning America East Player of the Year and Defender of the Year Anne Simon (high ankle sprain).

“We weren’t as focused on defense (as we needed to be),” said UMaine’s Smith. “We had good shots but they weren’t falling.”

The Highlanders did a nice job attacking Smith in the paint with different players, including small guards, to try to get her in foul trouble and it worked.

The Highlanders outscored UMaine in the paint 32-28.

NJIT head coach Mike Lane said holding UMaine to 54 points was a noteworthy accomplishment and his team’s offensive maturity in the fourth quarter was vital as his team “didn’t get rattled.”

UMaine trailed as many as 10 points in the first half before finishing the half on a 15-2 run that transformed a 22-14 deficit into a 29-24 lead at the break.

UMaine missed its first seven 3-pointers until Bornemann nailed a three with 4:20 left in the half.

Smith’s 10 points, six points apiece by Bornemann and Gallego and five by Jaycie Christopher paced the Black Bears in the first half.

Zuniga had 12 points to lead all scorers. Reese Vaughan had four.

Up next: UMaine will travel to New Hampshire on Monday for a noon game while NJIT hosts Binghamton on Wednesday at 7.