In the University of Maine men’s basketball team’s first playoff game since the 2019-2020 season, the Black Bears didn’t have enough to overcome the University of Massachusetts Lowell River Hawks.
The No. 2 River Hawks (25-7) earned a 85-54 quarterfinal victory over the seventh-seeded Black Bears (13-17) in the quarterfinals of the America East tournament. UMaine was looking for its first conference tournament victory since 2005.
UMaine trailed for much of Saturday’s game and its season ended earlier than the team wanted, but there’s room for optimism.
“Obviously we ran into a buzzsaw at Lowell and I think what this game shows you, and I’ve been in basketball for a long time, is that even though you’ve made a little progress in year one this game can humble you and show you have a long way to go,” UMaine head coach Chris Markwood said.
Lowell’s Abdoul Karim Coulibaly earned his second foul less than two minutes into the game and immediately went to the bench. The loss for the River Hawks looked like an opportunity for UMaine, but Lowell’s bench players stepped up to the challenge.
“It was 10-12 and kinda had a little back and forth and I thought their energy and effort was a little bit of a different level than ours and we messed up a couple scouting things and we just couldn’t do some of our normal defensive stuff that let them get going,” Markwood said. “Offensively their ball pressure bothered us.”
Lowell’s bench outscored UMaine’s 26-3 in the first half and was so dominant that Coulibaly only played those first two minutes of the first half.
“They’re really deep and they can bring people in in waves and they utilized that tonight,” Markwood added. “They played more urgently, desperately and physically they bothered us.”
Gedi scored back-to-back buckets a few minutes into the half to give the Black Bears an early 8-7 advantage, but it would turn out to be the last time UMaine held the lead.
The River Hawks went on an 18-2 run to take a 25-10 lead on a jumper from freshman Brayden O’Connor, who scored 11 points in the first half off the bench.
O’Connor led Lowell with 14 as four different players on the River Hawks finished in double figures.
Lowell took a 44-26 lead into the half over UMaine.
“I am really happy because we have had big leads at the half before and we let them go, so we held on today,” Lowell coach Pat Duquette said after the game.
Lowell shot incredibly well in the first half from the field at 58.6 percent and 5-8 from behind the 3-point line. UMaine shot just 11-26 from the floor.
“They tried to combat how we guard with a couple wrinkles that we didn’t handle great,” Markwood said. “They are wrinkles we know how to guard but maybe caught us off guard.”
Juozapaitis shot 5-7 over the first 20 minutes and paced UMaine with 11 points.
Coulibaly started the second half with Lowell and scored four free throws early as part of a 9-2 start for the River Hawks. The big man for the River Hawks scored all 10 of his points in the second half.
Tynes scored twice near the rim and Wright-McLeish, who also had two early fouls and played little time in the first half, hit a mid-range jumper that cut Lowell’s lead to 58-32 with 15 minutes left.
Juozapaitis hit a turnaround fadeaway from the left elbow to cut the deficit to 21 for UMaine with 10 minutes left in the game, his first points of the second half. On the ensuing Lowell possession, Max Brooks dunked and, just like so many other times during the game, stopped the Black Bears’ momentum in their tracks.
Juozapaitis paced UMaine with 16 points, while Tynes added 11 points and two steals, becoming the program’s leader in steals in a single season with 97.
“Starting back to when I got the job, the transition with Kellen, Gedi and Jaden [Clayton] and how they handled the transition was amazing and I think they’ve grown a ton,” Markwood said. “I hate how it ended, but over the last 11 games we played great basketball and competed in the league at a high level and as a coach you just want to get better and we did that.”