PORTLAND – The shots kept falling so Richard Barron started counting. He reached 27 before seeing one of his University of Maine basketball players miss a 3-pointer.
Of course, that was before the game.
Once the gray warmup pullovers came off and Rhode Island defenders started contesting the shots, the Black Bears turned cold and wound up on the losing end of a 51-38 nonconference women’s basketball game Saturday before a crowd of 450 at the Portland Expo.
“In our pregame, we buried everything before we went down to the locker room,” Barron said. “I really thought we’d have a good shooting day.”
Instead the Black Bears (1-8) drained their second 3-point attempt, courtesy of 6-foot-3 center Anna Heise, then made only one of their succeeding 14 attempts.
They ended the half trailing by 14 after shooting a miserable 4 of 27 from the field, so it wasn’t only long-distance deliveries that were off the mark, but layups and short jumpers as well.
“The first half was one of our better offensive halves of the season but the ball just wasn’t going in,” said guard Courtney Anderson, who compared it favorably to Wednesday night’s effort in a 53-50 loss at Siena when the Black Bears jumped on top by 14. “We needed to have more confidence in our shots.”
Of course, aggressive defense by Rhode Island (4-6) played a big role in Maine’s woes.
“They’ve really taken pride in becoming a good defensive team,” said Cathy Inglese, in her fourth season at URI after leading programs at Boston College and Vermont. “In fact, for the first time this past week I stopped a defensive drill and said, ‘You guys look like you’re having fun playing defense.’ And they go, ‘We are.’ So that’s half the battle.”
The Black Bears played in Portland for the first time since early 2006 and a significant chunk of the crowd consisted of local girls’ teams. They saw Maine come out strong in the second half, Ashleigh Roberts converting a pair of three-point plays to help whittle the margin to 38-33 midway through.
After playing a more deliberate style in an effort to cut down on its average of 23 turnovers — and making only three in the first half Saturday — Maine picked up the pace after intermission.
“When we got going it was off cuts, it was nice ball movement,” Barron said. “That’s how I envision us playing.”
Needing one defensive stop for the chance to pull within a basket, the Black Bears saw Rhode Island pull down four consecutive offensive rebounds, eventually leading to a pair of successful free throws by Samantha Tabakman.
“We need to take it upon ourselves to get those rebounds and make that stop,” Roberts said. “That was a critical point in the game. That could be what put us away.”
Roberts led the Black Bears with 14 points, 12 in the second half. Over the final 10 minutes, she was Maine’s only scorer.
Tabakman finished with 23 points to go with eight rebounds. Lara Gaspar added 10 rebounds as Rhode Island made up for the absence of its leading scorer, Emilie Cloutier, who played only four minutes after aggravating an ankle injury.
Maine’s two starting post players, Heise and Danielle Walczak, had but three defensive rebounds between them. Heise finished with seven points, and Liz Wood had six points and a team-high seven rebounds.
“Not to take anything away from (Tabakman) because she had a fantastic game,” Barron said, “but how did we allow that to happen? Our post players are just as capable of giving that type of performance. But you’re not going to do that if you don’t even want the ball.”
Rhode Island’s offensive rebounds (19) nearly matched Maine’s defensive total (21), meaning nearly every Ram miss was up for grabs. On the other end, Rhody outrebounded Maine by a 2-to-1 margin.
“They’re the youngest team in the country and we’re like the third- or fourth-youngest team,” said Inglese, who was born in Presque Isle when her father coached at what was then known as Aroostook State Teachers College, but the family moved to Connecticut before her first birthday. “It takes a few recruiting classes to reload and get yourself going. We want to win and win on the road, but it’s about progress. And that’s really what you have to stress: Are you getting better?”
The 38 points represented a season low for the Black Bears, who entered averaging 56.5. They have lost five straight and will stay in Greater Portland before heading to Smithfield, R.I., for a Monday game at Bryant.
Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: