BANGOR — Fittingly, it was Aaron Calixte who finished off the biggest victory of the past two seasons for the Maine men’s basketball team.

The sophomore point guard had shredded Albany’s defense throughout the second half Friday, scoring 10 consecutive Maine points in one stretch.

With 4.9 seconds remaining in a tie game, Calixte calmly sank two free throws to give the Black Bears an 81-79 victory in a rare weekday matinee at Cross Insurance Center.

“I live for shots like that,” said Calixte, who scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half. “We know what type of team they are. They’re tough to beat.”

Maine (6-11, 2-2 America East) has won four of its past six games. Albany (14-5, 3-1) has been the class of the league in recent years, winners of 21 of its previous 22 conference games, and six consecutive over the Black Bears.

Maine Coach Bob Walsh, picking up the most significant win in his two years at the helm, wasn’t ready to call it a landmark moment.

“Hopefully, it’s one we look back on in the future and say, ‘That was a big day for us.’ But right now for this team it just feels like we beat Albany,” Walsh said after running his record at Maine to 9-38.

“Hopefully, it’s a big step for us, but we’ll find out.”

Maine was boosted by the surprise return of freshman forward Issac Vann, who had missed the previous 12 games with a fractured ankle. Vann returned to practice for the first time in seven weeks Thursday, but Walsh arrived at the arena Friday morning not intending to play him, wanting to get him more conditioning work first.

“I met with my assistants when we got here and asked, ‘Tell me what you think about Issac?’ And every single one of them said, ‘Bring him off the bench. You’ve got to play him,'” Walsh said.

“He’s just a natural, so thank heavens.”

Vann entered five minutes into the game and scored seven points before intermission. Vann’s seven-point run put Maine ahead for the first time in the second half at 52-51. He finished with a team-high 19 points in 25 minutes, showing no rust.

“Once I seen my first shot go in, I got my confidence back, just tried to make plays,” Vann said. “I tried to come out with a lot of intensity and spark the team.”

It was Maine’s defense that provided the biggest spark in the second half. Albany took a 48-43 halftime lead by shooting 64 percent from the field. In the second half, the Black Bears harried the Great Danes into 32.3 percent shooting.

“That says a lot about how tough we are,” Walsh said. “Everybody that went out there believed we could win, and that’s a huge step for this program.”

It was Calixte’s explosive first step that made the victory possible. Midway through the second half, he started blowing by defenders and making layups. When the Danes sagged, he hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key. Then Calixte went back on the attack, making two more layups and 5 of 6 free throws.

Albany Coach Will Brown blistered his defense after surrendering 47 points in the paint and watching Maine make 57 percent of its shots (33-of-58).

“That’s the worst defensive display in the 15 years I’ve been here,” Brown said. “We impersonated a matador today and we got bit in the butt because of it.”

Calixte did the bulk of the biting, and showed some more teeth afterward with a satisfied smile.

“I was trying to get downhill, make plays going towards the rim,” he said.

“This is a great step for us, showing we can compete in the second half.”

Mark Emmert can be contacted at 791-6424 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MarkEmmertPPH


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