April 02, 2020

Maine bears down on defense, beats UNH in return to Alfond

ORONO – The University of Maine men’s basketball team entered Sunday’s matchup with New Hampshire as a confused squad in search of an identity.

The Black Bears had been left in the dark – literally and figuratively – with the rest of the state, and had shown no signs of recovering. They had been piling up some big individual numbers, but the most glaring digits were these: 0-for-98.

That’s zero wins in 1998.

But on Sunday, coach John Giannini’s team got exactly what it needed: a little bit of real, honest-to-goodness home cookin’. They celebrated their first game in Alfond Arena since December with a 68-65 win over the Wildcats in front of 1,398 fans.

“We had been poor enough lately that we just needed to put forth an effort where we could believe in one another on a basketball court again, and the guys came through,” Giannini said.

Junior guard Marcus Wills bounced back from a two-point outing at Hartford to score 30 for the Bears, while classmate Fred Meeks shook off an injured wrist to add 16. Allen Ledbetter pitched in with nine points and 13 rebounds.

Maine improves to 5-10, 2-5 in America East. The Wildcats drop to 7-9, 3-5.

With the win the Bears re-established what has become a genuine home-court advantage at Alfond, where they are 5-1 this year. The victory was the first since a blowout of Husson on Dec. 21.

Neither team trailed by more than seven points in the game, and the Bears took the lead for good with 5:52 to go. UMaine contined to inch away and led by as much as six with 3:09 to go. Maine drilled 10 of 12 free throws over the final 4:50 to save the win.

UNH freshman Andy Cavo had a shot to tie with three seconds to go, but his open 23-footer rattled out.

Senior Matt Acres scored 22 for the Wildcats, while Cavo finished with 15 and Carmen Maciariello added 12. John Bapst High grad Ken Rassi contributed six points and seven rebounds.

Giannini said being able to put in quality practice time for the first time since Christmas allowed his team to address some concerns.

That worked showed, as the Bears made the Wildcats work deep into the shot clock all day through some tenacious defense and a commitment to basic fundamentals.

The Bears contested every pass. They aggressively fronted low post players and turned a interior defense that had been porous against Delaware and Hartford into a well-synchronized ballet of denial and help.

“Every team in America has things they need to work on,” Giannini said. “We just had a bunch of them at one time, and they all seemed to be defensive. Especially post defense.”

Ledbetter keyed that effort, coming up with five steals while fighting his way around to front the Wildcats. And when the entry pass was delivered, frontcourt mate Colin Haynes was lurking. He drew two offensive fouls on UNH players and grabbed five boards.

Ledbetter attributed his defensive effort to added attention.

“My main focus tonight was my defense, and of late, my defense wasn’t too good. It was pretty poor,” Ledbetter said.

UNH coach Jeff Jackson said despite the fact that his ‘Cats shot 50 percent in the game to the Bears’ 33 percent, he was much more impressed by UMaine.

“They did to us defensively what we try to do to people in terms of trying to disrupt a rhythm,” Jackson said.

Black Bears 68, Wildcats 65

New Hampshire (7-9) Maine men (5-10)


Acres 9 14 4 6 22 Thompson 2 6 0 0 4

Hibbs 0 1 0 0 0 Haynes 0 4 0 0 0

Rassi 2 5 2 6 6 Ledbetter 2 6 5 6 9

Maciariello 4 8 3 4 12 Wills 10 22 6 9 30

Bradberry 1 2 4 6 6 Thibodeau 1 5 2 2 4

Donahue 0 0 0 1 0 Faison 1 2 2 2 5

Jackson 1 4 0 0 2 Tibbetts 0 0 0 0 0

Cole 0 0 2 2 2 Meeks 3 12 9 11 16

Cavo 5 10 1 2 15 Marshall 0 0 0 0 0

Totals 22 44 16 27 65 Totals 19 57 24 30 68

New Hampshire 29 65

Maine 30 68

3-pt. goals: Maine (6-22): Wills 4-9, Meeks 1-7, Faison 1-1, Thibodeau 0-4, Haynes 0-1; New Hampshire (5-11): Cavo 4-8, Maciariello 1-3

Attendance: 1,398

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