Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Black Bears 52, Princeton 50

Chicken or the egg? Bad offense or good defense?

Kind of hard to tell at Monday night's slugfest at Alfond Arena where the Black Bears stymied Princeton for much of the first half and then held on for dear life and a 52-50 victory.

Clinging to a four-point lead in the final seconds, the Black Bears withstood a scare when Princeton's Kareem Maddox hit a close range shot and was fouled and went to the line with 3.9 seconds left. With everyone in the building (including the always-snoozing ushers) understanding he'd intentionally miss the free throw, Maddox executed it just the way coaches draw it up.

Maddox added some loft, missing high off the iron so that it dropped back down and bounced again. The extra kick off the rim threw off the timing of the rebounders. Out of the brief scrum, the Tigers' Nick Lake got an open look from the right side (maybe 10 feet), but missed as the horn sounded.

Despite only three field goals in the second half, UMaine won its third straight to conclude its non-conference slate at 8-5. While it'd be a bit presumptious to say the Black Bears will go into Thursday's America East opener vs. Vermont with momentum, it's hard to overlook the fact the team has found a way to win some games it has lost in recent years. Monday night was exhibit A.
With their offense in full-blown hibernation after jumping out to a 26-13 lead in the first half, the Black Bears found a way to scratch out a win over a Princeton team that was coming off an impressive win at St. Joe's and was sitting at a solid 113 in the RPI (UMaine was at 183).

Gerald McLemore (14 points) and Murphy Burnatowski (11 points, 5 rebounds) spearheaded the effort. The two combined to hit 11 of 12 free throws, many of them down the stretch as Princeton starting fouling in an attempt to get back into the game. McLemore also contributed four steals in the game.

Sean McNally just missed a double-double with nine points and 10 rebounds. Troy Barnies had five points and eight rebounds. Junior Bernal had nine points and six rebounds.

Both teams shot poorly: Princteon at 34 percent and the Black Bears at 32 percent.

Burnatowski has a college-ready body and plays with confidence. In my opinion, he made the play of the game in the final minute when he went high and fought off a Princeton defender for a poorly thrown pass, was fouled and hit the free throws. ... Black Bears didn't convert many open-court opportunities created by its good defense. ... Princeton is probably a better shooting team than it showed and started hitting clutch 3s late. ... Players on Princeton's roster can claim they may some day be president, but they can't claim a victory in basketball over Maine as the Tigers are now 0-2 vs. the Black Bears. ... Black Bears need some kind of offensive production underneath to release the pressure on Gerald McLemore and the other perimeter threats. ... The last time I saw Princeton in person was in the late-1970s (I think) vs. Minnesota. ... That's one BIG black bear in the center of UMaine's new portable floor. ... Alfond Arena continues its tradition as the frostiest hoops facility known to modern man.
Thumbs up
to Burnatowski and the Black Bears defense.
Thumbs down
to the fan near us who spent the first 10 minutes complaining about the PA system volume. ... to all the fans who didn't show up two days after a landmark victory at Boston College.


MattT said...

Hard fought win for the Black Bears last night. I am beginning to see a different attitude and confidence with this team as opposed to the previous few years of losing. McNally and Barnies in particular seem to be providing some much needed leadership that has been so sorely lacking. It is also good to see the players smiling and having fun on the court again. I think Burnatowski and Mitchell have really helped everyone play loose and together. Burnatowski plays with great intensity but also the calmness of an upperclassman. Will he play with this same calmness matched against Marqus Blakely? We'll see on Thursday. Lots of unanswered questions: Will Maine handle Vermont's pressure?
Can they pack the interior and hold down Blakely's second chance opportunities without getting burned by Joseph, Acouai, and company from the outside? Will Maine muster enough offense to stay competitive? I am looking forward to it.

Dan King said...

Whether or not UMaine can muster enough offense to be a factor in AE is a HUGE question. Preseason I picked Bears seventh. Right now, I'd say sixth with an outside shot at fifth, but that's really all I can see. BU, Vermont, Stony and, really, Albany, too, have a few more proven weapons. Maybe Black Bears will continue to surprise. Sometimes teams that stick together can pull off the unthinkable. Don't forget Evan Fjeld for Vermont, he's quietly having a solid season. Blakely is a vet and won't force things. He'll do his business, but is a better passer than people realize. Been a while since Black Bears performed well in a clutch situation and opening the AE season at home against Vermont would qualify.