FAIRFIELD, Conn. — It was the 118th game of her splendid Maine basketball career, and Ashleigh Roberts was not at all happy with how it was unfolding.
The Black Bears were rushing wildly inaccurate shots on one end of the court and getting pushed around inside by Fairfield on the other end. The team’s worst half of basketball of the season left it facing a 24-point deficit in the second round of the Women’s Basketball Invitational before an announced crowd of 908 at Alumni Hall.
“She just said it at halftime, ‘This is not the way it’s going to go down. I’m not going out like this,’” Maine Coach Richard Barron said of his senior star. “And Courtney (Anderson) was right there backing her up. It was obvious that those two were going to bring the fight that we needed in the second half.”
It came too late to salvage a victory, but Maine at least rediscovered its pride before falling 63-50. The Black Bears finished 17-15. Roberts finished with a season-high 24 points to give her 1,248 for her career, the ninth-best mark in program history.
Maine, coming off arguably its best half of the season in a 77-47 victory over Bucknell in the opening round of the tournament, was horrible in the opening 20 minutes against Fairfield (22-10). The Black Bears trailed 37-13 to match a season-low for first-half points. They were 0-for-9 from the 3-point arc, turned the ball over nine times (leading to 11 points), allowed the Stags to make 15-of-20 shots, and got no contributions from their bench.
The outcome was essentially sealed. But Barron and Roberts wanted to see a much better output from the team.
The coach inserted Anderson into the lineup in place of Lauren Bodine. He instructed his players to pressure the ball the length of the court. And he kept that quintet in the game long enough to whittle the deficit to 11, calling timeouts when he felt they needed a rest.
“We were busting our butts,” said sophomore forward Liz Wood, who finished with 11 points, seven steals and six rebounds. “We showed a lot of heart. And I think it’s important for our program that we never gave up.”
Roberts scored 20 points in the second half to lead the charge. She continually drove the baseline, into the teeth of the Fairfield defense, to convert layups or draw fouls.
“We were just timid. It was moreso nerves than anything else,” Roberts said of her team’s lackluster first half.
“You’re not going to get back in the game just trading buckets. You need to change something up, get some disruption. I just tried to attack. I was getting to the rim.”
Maine forced 12 second-half turnovers but could never get within single digits, paying for its miserable first half. Katie Cizynski led Fairfield with 26 points and 12 rebounds. The Stags advance to play the winner of Monday’s Illinois-Chicago vs. Eastern Michigan game for the East Region title.
Maine can celebrate a season in which it won 13 more games than last winter. And a second half in which it finally found a lineup that was determined to push the home team. Freshman point guard Sigi Koizar and sophomore center Mikaela Gustafsson rounded out the group.
“Those five I thought did a great job giving us that energy and spunk,” Barron said. “Ashleigh was certainly a big part of it. She went down swinging and that was great to see. I’m disappointed that we didn’t have a third half to keep going with what we were building.”
Roberts will watch what Maine is building from afar now. The Black Bears won 16 games in her first three seasons, and exceeded that total by one during her final go-around. Included was the team’s first postseason victory in 15 years.
“I’m absolutely proud of it,” she said of her role in that renaissance. “I would not be surprised at all if they won the conference championship within the next year or two.”
Mark Emmert can be contacted at 791-6424 or at: