HARTFORD, Conn.— The University of Maine (25-4) saw a 22-point lead whittled down to a final margin of just six, but held on to defeat the University of New Hampshire (13-16), 71-65, in the first semifinal game of the Friendship Cottage Cheese America East Championship.
The Black Bears built a 56-34 lead with 8:48 remaining in regulation and were up, 65-47, with 4:10 left. The Wildcats then came roaring back with an 18-6 run to close the game, including five points apiece from sophomore guard Geneva Livingston and junior center Maren Matthias. New Hampshire scored 11 unanswered points to in a span of 2:53 to start the run, closing the gap to 65-58 with exactly one minute left. However, Maine sealed the victory with six free throws in the final minute of the game.
America East Player of the Year Heather Ernest led the Black Bears with 16 points. Sophomore guard Kim Corbitt and junior guard Melissa Heon each contributed 11 points, and sophomore guard Missy Traversi chipped in 10 points. Heon added five assists, while Corbitt, the America East Defensive Player of the Year, and Traversi each had three steals.
Matthias led the Wildcats with a game-high 27 points and seven rebounds. She made 9-of-11 shots from the field and 9-of-13 from the charity stripe. Livingston finished with 15 points and eight rebounds.
Maine used a pressure defense that disrupted the New Hampshire offense for much of the game, producing nine steals and 17 Wildcat turnovers. Despite turning the ball over 19 times themselves, Maine shot 54% from the field, converted 15-of-21 foul shots, and outrebounded New Hampshire, 31-29. The Black Bears were particularly effective in the first half, shooting a scorching 67% (16-24) from the field in the opening 20 minutes. Maine closed the half on a 19-7 run for a 35-21 halftime advantage, making 9-of-10 shots from the field during that stretch.
The Black Bears advance to Saturday's championship game at 4 p.m. on the America East TV Network. They will face the winner of tonight's second semifinal game, pitting #2 seed University of Vermont against #3 seed Boston University.