The University of Maine men’s basketball team pulled away from Northwestern State (Louisiana) 78-65 Thursday in Jacksonville, Florida, with a strong second half push.
It was the first of three games for the Black Bears at the First Coast Classic tournament.
Neither side was able to forge a lead of more than four points for the first 38 minutes played, and were close with UMaine leading 34-33 heading into the break. The game ultimately came down to a 19-4 UMaine run with roughly 10 minutes remaining in regulation, in which the Black Bears took a 61-46 lead and hung on for the 13-point win.
UMaine improved to 2-2 with the victory, and is scheduled to play its next two games with Presbyterian College and host University of North Florida Friday and Saturday, respectively.
Northwestern State dropped to 1-3.
It was UMaine’s best all-around shooting performance this season, going 40 percent (8-for-20) from 3-point territory, 51.9 percent (27-for-52) from the field and 80 percent (16-for-20) from the free throw line. The Black Bears’ leading scorer was junior University of New Hampshire transfer AJ Lopez with 19 points off the bench — a career high — as starters Kellen Tynes and Ja’Shonte Wright-McLeish posted 14 points each.
“We have guys that can make shots,” second-year head coach Chris Markwood said. “With a bigger sample size, we’ll get better on offense as the year goes on.”
Tynes and Lopez also distributed the ball well, combining for 9 of UMaine’s 13 total assists.
Tynes — the NCAA’s leader in steals last year — and Lopez are now UMaine’s joint leading scorers this season with 48 points each. The junior guard Tynes leads all starters with 30.7 minutes played, while small forward Lopez is averaging 19.7 minutes per game.
“[AJ’s] a really talented basketball player,” Markwood said. “I had already recruited him twice, and when he entered the transfer portal we jumped on him right away. He’s going to turn some heads.”
On defense, the Black Bears combined for 10 steals, 4 blocks and 25 rebounds. The Northwestern State Demons logged 7, 1 and 19 respectively, and shot 41.4 percent from the field.
“Our defense has to be our mainstay,” Markwood said.