As the ball moved around from one black jersey to another, Aki Thomas, coach of the visiting University of Maryland-Baltimore County, was applauding.

“There we go, black, there we go,” Thomas called out.

UMBC moved until it found an open shot, which was often, as the Retrievers beat the University of Maine 83-79 on Saturday at the Portland Expo.

Jairus Lyles led UMBC with a game-high 37 points. He drove in traffic but also found a lot of open lanes to the basket.

For the Black Bears’ annual appearance in Portland, they did not shine, especially on defense, allowing the Retrievers to shoot 60 percent.

“It was a horrendous defensive performance,” Maine Coach Bob Walsh said, adding the blame goes to the coach. “It’s 100 percent on me. Our commitment level and our ability to get stops needs to get a lot better.”

Maine was hoping to even its America East record. Instead the Black Bears dropped to 4-6 in the league, 8-15 overall.

The Retrievers snapped a seven-game losing streak, their last win coming against Maine a month ago. UMBC remained in last place at 2-8, 6-19 overall.

Sophomore guard Aaron Calixte paced Maine with 18 points, one of the four Black Bears in double figures, with guard Kevin Little (13), and forwards Devine Eke (13) and Issac Vann (12). Maine shot 42 percent but Little could not find a groove (4 of 17 shooting, 3 of 14 on 3-pointers).

“I didn’t see much (offensively), but none of that matters until we figure things out on the defensive end,” Walsh said.

UMBC dominated the rebounding – 43-25 – but it was the way the Retrievers’ post players got open looks that hurt Maine. Both teams’ starting front lines averaged between 6-foot-6 and 6-8, but UMBC got the advantage. Forwards Joe Sherburne (12 points), Cody Joyce (10) and Nolan Gerrity (10) complemented Lyles.

“I don’t know anything they did was specifically hurting us,” Walsh said, “except for everything they wanted. If they wanted to get an open 3, they got an open 3. If they wanted to slip a big (man) to the rim, he got to the rim. If Lyles wanted to get a shot, he got one.”

Lyles, a sophomore transfer from Virginia Commonwealth, is 6-2 with quick moves. If he wasn’t moving to an open spot without the ball, he was creating with it, driving into traffic and hitting jumpers.”

“He’s a play finisher,” Thomas said. “He was the recipient of a lot of (passes), but he made some plays that only he can make.”

Still, one-man teams usually lose, which is what UMBC had been doing.

“We had not done a good job sharing the ball,” Thomas said, “especially our last game against Albany. We had seven assists and, gosh, that’s low. It’s easy to defend you when you’re not moving the ball.”

UMBC totaled 19 assists Saturday.

“The guys did a real good job of getting into the paint, moving the ball, working it around the horn and getting open looks,” said Thomas.

Lyles said, “we moved the ball real well today. Coach emphasized it and we stuck to it.”

But what happens when there are no openings and the shot clock is winding down?

Lyles smiled. “I do what I can,” he said.

Maine trailed 44-39 at halftime, held the lead a few times and last tied the game 63-63 with 8:04 left.

UMBC led 80-76 with 22 second left. Maine had the ball but missed two shots. Sherburne made two free throws (82-76). Little swished a 3-pointer with three seconds left (82-79), but Will Darley’s free throw with 2.5 seconds left clinched it.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.