ORONO – The University of Maine Memorial Gymnasium, affectionately known as The Pit, welcomes just over 1,300 fans. It’s not much, not by Division I basketball standards, but when they all make noise at the same time, they bring volume to a larger crowd.
On Sunday afternoon, 1,336 fans were noisy, giving Maine’s women’s basketball team an emotional boost. The Black Bears took care of their part on the field, winning a 67-54 victory over UMass Lowell to advance to the East American Championship game for the fifth consecutive season.
Maine (18-14) will head to seed Stony Brook (28-3) at 5 p.m. Friday. Stony Brook defeated Binghamton in the other semifinal on Sunday, 57-42. Maine and Stony Brook shared their two regular season games, each winning at home.
Rookie Anne Simon scored 21 points before making a foul with 1:19 remaining. She was pleasantly surprised by the atmosphere of The Pit.
“It was incredible. I did not expect that,” said Simon.
Second-year guard Kharis Idom, who led the River Hawks with 15 points, thought crowd was a big factor.
“The atmosphere played a role. It was difficult for us to communicate with each other, ”said Idom. “With that, after they started running, it got a little exhausting for us. Not being able to get along made things more difficult. We had an atmosphere like this, but it was not as crazy and as noisy, and against us. “
Maine followed 17-13 after a quarter, while Lowell controlled the boards. In one possession, the River Hawks had six offensive rebounds but failed to convert the numerous chances into points. They finished with 57 rebounds – 26 offensives – against 31 in Maine. Twenty turnovers and a 28.1% shot percentage offset Lowell’s huge rebound advantage.
With only eight players dressed due to injuries, Maine had to play a zone defense, said coach Amy Vachon.
“We knew it was going to be a play area problem against them, but we also knew that playing with a man would be very difficult. If we can win by giving up so many rebounds, I guess I will take it, “said Vachon.
Maine closed the first half with a 10-0 record, reversing a two-point deficit to a 35-27 halftime lead. The Black Bears scored the first four points in the second half, but the River Hawks responded with a 12-2 run to reduce Maine’s lead to 41-39 on an Idom layup with 4:16 to do in the third.
Simon touched a 3 point to push the Maine lead to five, however, and the Black Bears retired in the fourth quarter.
“In terms of our overall defense, it was mainly the paint pack,” said Maeve Carroll, who had 14 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists. “They grow very hard inside. We weren’t going to give them 3s, but we would rather have them take pictures of the outside.
“The crowd really helped our energy and kept us going.”
Maine had to play the entire second quarter without point guard Dor Saar, who had his third fault with 2:32 left in the first quarter. When Saar was in the game, the Black Bears moved the ball well during the transition.
Saar’s biggest highlight came in the middle of the fourth quarter when she pulled a perfect pass without looking behind the arc at 3 points to Carroll for an easy lay-up and a 61-48 lead.
While Maine played without the Saarland, Lowell played long periods without Idom, who was called in for his third foul with 1:26 remaining in the first quarter.
“We had to play someone else’s minutes longer than Kharis needed to chew,” said Lowell coach Tom Garrick. “(Maine) just stayed firmer than we did at the most important moments. They believed more than we did, I thought, when it mattered most. We spent a lot of energy coming back, and this is where the legs get a little tired. “
Maddy McVicar and Kelly Fogarty each scored 11 points for Maine.
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