BANGOR — In a basketball game marked by big shots and pivotal defensive plays, Maine forward Liz Wood offered the coup de grace Sunday.

The Black Bears had been locked in battle with their biggest rival, Albany, for 35 minutes, to the delight of a raucous crowd of 3,231 at the Cross Insurance Center. The Great Danes had won 17 consecutive America East Conference games and the past four league championships. They had also won 11 of their past 12 meetings with Maine, one of them the last home loss the Black Bears had suffered, more than a year ago.

Her team clinging to a five-point lead, Wood received a pass from Sigi Koizar in stride and buried a 3-pointer from the top of the key. She then stole a pass from Albany’s Tiana-Jo Carter and headed downcourt again, eventually being surrounded at the 3-point arc as the shot clock approached zero. She leaned back and heaved a one-handed shot toward the rim, and was as surprised as anyone to see it swish through cleanly.

It was the defining sequence in a near-flawless 65-53 victory for the Black Bears.

“I was just trying to hit rim and I saw Bella (Swan) backside, so I just threw up a prayer and hoped that she would get the offensive rebound. But then there was no offensive rebound. Sometimes you get lucky like that,” Wood said.

One moment of luck surrounded by 40 minutes of pluck. Maine (21-7, 12-1 America East) won an 18th consecutive home game and tied Albany (21-4, 12-1) atop the league standings. It did so because of brilliant execution of a marvelous game plan. And everyone played their part.

Koizar scored 15 points with only one turnover while running the point against a trapping 3-2 defense determined to get the ball out of her hands. She was just as determined to distribute it. Advantage Koizar.

Wood, choosing her shots carefully (well, except for that one), finished with 14 points and six rebounds. She also combined with center Mikaela Gustafsson to limit Albany star Shereesha Richards to eight points on 2-of-8 shooting.

Lauren Bodine came off the bench to score 11 points in a 4-minute stretch of the second quarter to help Maine take a 34-30 halftime lead. She added one more timely 3-pointer late in the game and had 14 points. Maine made a season-high 13 3-pointers.

Sophie Weckstrom made two of them but really shone as a passer, recording a game-high seven assists.

“We just embraced it. We did not shy away from it,” Maine Coach Richard Barron said of his team’s approach to its biggest home game of the year, which drew its biggest crowd. “I don’t think this team has arrogance in their DNA. … But certainly confidence, they’ve earned that.”

Albany led for only a minute and a half in the first quarter. Maine took control and won despite attempting no free throws, by piling up 22 assists against only 12 turnovers.

Albany Coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson was upset that her team didn’t run its offense through Richards often enough. The senior came into the game averaging 22.9 points per game. Prior to Sunday, she ranked sixth among active Division I players in career points. Abrahamson-Henderson also offered Maine a back-handed compliment for its display of 3-point shooting.

“Anytime we lose games it’s because she doesn’t get touches, period,” Abrahamson-Henderson said of her star forward.

“(The Black Bears) made their shots. That’s hard to do. We don’t live and die by the 3. We never will. People lose games by that. Those are long shots. But they did a good job of hitting them.”

Maine, which surrendered 34 points to Richards in a 64-59 loss on Jan. 16, was intent on making her work harder this time. Wood and Gustafsson studied the film from that game and came up with a better approach.

“They’re always looking for her, always,” Gustafsson said. “It’s not one second that you can relax and slip away. I think we were working hard on defense (the first game), but it’s just like those small little details, adjustments you make like with your feet, your body, how you angle it and how you work on getting up on her can make a big difference.”

Maine and Albany have three conference games remaining. If both win out, the Great Danes will likely win the tiebreaker for first place, which would earn them the right to host the league’s tournament championship game if they get that far. That will be based on its superior RPI. Albany entered play 49th in that formula used to rank teams; Maine was 85th.

A rematch will have to wait. Barron and his players were savoring a great win Sunday.

“Probably the biggest win since I’ve been here,” said Barron, in his fifth year. “For us to withstand that sort of physical pressure and defense without the fouls being called and without the benefit of getting to the free-throw line and still win by 12 I think is even a bigger statement about how well we played and took care of the ball.”


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