ALBANY, N.Y. – The University of Maine had the ball in the hands of its top player with the clock running down.
Justin Edwards had three chances to win the game for the Black Bears, but each shot came up short.
Maine hasn’t advanced to the America East semifinals since 2005, but the Black Bears were oh so close Saturday night.
Maine led for the first 37 minutes and had an eight-point lead with less than eight minutes to play, but it wasn’t enough as Albany rode its home crowd to a 50-49 victory.
“I thought we really deserved to win the basketball game,” said Maine Coach Ted Woodward. “Give Albany credit, they made big plays when they needed to, but I’m extremely proud of how our guys played throughout the game.”
Sam Rowley made a hook shot with 19 seconds left to give the Great Danes (22-10) the last lead of the game.
Albany didn’t lead until 2:25 remained, as the Black Bears (11-19) played at their pace for much of the game.
“I thought Maine was as dangerous as anybody in this conference tournament,” said Great Danes Coach Will Brown.
The Black Bears went 7:58 in the second half without a field goal as they watched their lead slip away.
“We hit a drought and we just weren’t able to get to the free-throw line,” said Woodward.
Edwards, the league’s leading scorer in the regular season, missed a jumper and a putback in the final minute.
Then, following two missed free throws by Rowley, Edwards missed a runner as the buzzer went off.
“We trust him,” Woodward said of his star sophomore. “He’s a tremendous player. He’s done a great job for us.”
Edwards, who finished with a team-high 18 points, was consoled by his teammates and was wiping tears from his eyes as his team walked off the court.
“I thought they were all good,” he said of his last-minute chances.
The Black Bears led by eight points with 7:45 to play, but the Great Danes fed off the home-court crowd to finally get the lead and hold on.
The Black Bears played some great defense, holding Mike Black, Albany’s leading scorer, in check.
Black finished with just nine points as Xavier Pollard of Maine locked him up for most of the game.
“I think this is the best defensive guard in the league right here,” Woodward said, motioning to Pollard.
In the first half it was all Maine.
Edwards hit an off-balance 3-pointer with the shot clock running down to put the Black Bears up 25-14.
“We wanted to make him work,” Brown said.
“I thought he made some tough shots.”
Edwards started the second half with the same emotion, making two steals for easy layups and keeping Maine up double-digits.
Edwards finished 8 of 20 from the field, but was just one basket from sending the Black Bears to the next round.
“He’s come up with a lot of big shots,” Woodward said. “Unfortunately they didn’t go in. It was in the hands of the guy we wanted.”