Maine’s Maddy McVicar takes a shot while being defended by UMass-Lowell’s Denise Solis. McVicar had 11 points for Maine. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson Buy this Photo

ORONO — The University of Maine’s Memorial Gymnasium, known affectionately as The Pit, seats just over 1,300 fans. That’s not many, not by Division I college standards, but when they all make noise at the same time, they bring the volume of a larger crowd.

Sunday afternoon, 1,336 fans were raucous, giving the Maine women’s basketball team an emotional lift. The Black Bears took care of their part on the court, earning a 67-54 win over UMass-Lowell to advance to the America East Conference championship game for the fifth consecutive season.

Maine (18-14) will play at Stony Brook (New York) University in the conference title game at 5 p.m. Friday.

“It was amazing. I didn’t expect that,” said Maine freshman Anne Simon of the crowd noise. Simon, who was not on the team when it hosted a conference semifinal at The Pit last season ,scored a game-high 21 points before fouling out with 1:19 left in the game.

Sophomore guard Kharis Idom, who led the Riverhawks with 15 points, thought the loud, very pro-Black Bears crowd was a difference in the game.

 

“The atmosphere played a part. It was hard for us to communicate with each other. With that, after they started to go on their run, it just became a little bit draining to us. Not being able to hear each other really made it harder,” Idom said. “We’ve had an atmosphere like this, but it hasn’t been as crazy and as loud, and as against us.”

Maine trailed after one quarter, 17-13, as Lowell established itself as the better rebounding team early. The Riverhawks had a possession in the first quarter in which they grabbed six offensive rebounds, but were unable to convert the numerous chances into points. Lowell finished with 57 boards, 26 offensive, to Maine’s 31. Twenty turnovers and a 28.1 percent field goal percentage mitigated Lowell’s huge rebound advantage.

With just eight players dressed due to injury, Maine had to play a zone defense, coach Amy Vachion said.

Maine’ Kelly Fogarty dribbles up the court while trying to fend off UMass-Lowell defender Shamyjha Price during an America East semifinal game Sunday in Orono, Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson Buy this Photo

“We knew that was going to be an issue playing zone against them coming in, but we also knew playing man would be very difficult. If we can win giving up that many rebounds, I guess I’ll take it,” Vachon said.

Maine closed the first half with a 10-0 run, flipping a two-point deficit to a 35-27 halftime lead. The Black Bears scored the first four points of the second half to push their lead to 39-27, but the Riverhawks answered with a 12-2 run to cut Maine’s lead to two on an Idom layup with 4:16 left in the third.

Simon hit a three to push Maine’s lead back to five, 44-39, and the Black Bears pulled away in the fourth quarter to secure the win.

“As far as our defense overall, it was mainly pack in the paint. They push it really hard inside. We weren’t going to give them threes, but we’d rather have them take shots from the outside,” said Maeve Carroll, who had 14 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists for Maine. “The crowd really helped our energy and kept us going.”

Maine had to play the entire second quarter without point guard Dor Saar, who picked up her third foul with 2:32 left in the first quarter. When Saar was in the game, the Black Bears moved the ball in transition well.

The Saar highlight of the game came midway through the fourth quarter, when leading the Black Bears in transition, Saar fired a perfect no-look pass from behind the 3-point arc to Carroll for an easy layup and a 61-48 lead.

“It happens sometimes. I let my frustrations get to me. In the second half I knew I should come out differently,” Saar said. “Coach, a lot of times says, don’t pass it with one hand. If I’m really sure about that, I’m going to pass it.”

At the same time Maine played without Saar, Lowell played long stretches without Idom, who was called for her third foul with 1:26 left in the first quarter.

“We had to play someone else more extensive minutes that Kharis needed to chew up,” Lowell coach Tom Garrick said. “(Maine) just stayed more steadfast than we did at the most important times. They believed more than we did, I thought, when it counted most. We spent a lot of energy coming back, and that’s where the legs get a little tired.”

Maddy McVicar and Kelly Fogarty each scored 11 points for Maine. Bri Stiers grabbed 12 rebounds for Lowell.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

 

 

 

 

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