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Hot Nor'easters top men's basketball, 81-77





LEWISTON, Maine -- Stifling full-court pressure helped the University of New England men's basketball team overcome a 37-30 halftime deficit and turn it into an 81-77 non-conference victory at Bates College on Tuesday night.

The Nor'easters notched their eighth straight victory to raise their record to 9-3, while Bates' three-game win streak ended, as the Bobcats fell to 6-5 on the season.

Junior Marshall Hatch (Chicago, Ill.) led the Bobcats with 17 points, including two three-pointers from well behind the arc in the final 4:15. Junior Chris Wilson (Brewer, Maine) scored 15 points to go with 7 rebounds, 6 assists and 3 steals. Sophomore Brian Ellis (Braintree, Mass.) added 14 points and 6 rebounds, and sophomore Alex Gallant (Bangor, Maine) submitted 11 points with 6 rebounds. First-year John Squires (Swampscott, Mass.) grabbed a game-high 8 rebounds, helping Bates to a 42-33 advantage on the boards.

UNE forced 28 Bates turnovers, including 20 in the second half, turning a nine-point deficit early in the second half into a lead of as many as 16 points. The Bobcats clawed back to within two points with Chris Wilson's offensive rebound and three-pointer with 3 seconds remaining, but Johnnie Jefferson iced the win by hitting two free throws with two ticks left on the clock.

Jefferson led five Nor'easters in double digits with 18 points, including 13 in the second half, and also grabbed a team-high 7 rebounds and made 4 steals. Jaykyri Simpson added 14 points, including 12 in the second half, and also made 4 steals. Quentin Thompson, Steve Belmonte and Ryan Knotek added 13, 11 and 10 points, respectively.

UNE's defensive pressure gave Bates some problems right from the start of the game, allowing the Nor'easters to go on top 9-2 early on. Bates regrouped to put together an 11-3 run for a 13-12 lead, with five points by Wilson and three-pointers by senior Scott Place (Bridgewater, Mass.) and Hatch. Bates' intense defense led to 30 percent shooting for UNE in the period, and Bates built its lead as high 11 before entering intermission with a 37-30 advantage, led by Wilson's 10 points.

UNE began to turn the tables almost from the start of the second half, tying the game at 41 on a three by Belmonte and retaking the lead at 44-41 with a Jefferson three. With just under 13 minutes left in the game, in a span of 21 seconds, UNE converted two steals into off-balance three-pointers by Jefferson, suddenly giving the Nor'easters a 9-point lead and prompting a timeout called by Bates head coach Jon Furbush. Bates' difficulties with the UNE press continued, however, as the Bobcats turned it over on four straight possessions while UNE's lead grew to 15, at 65-50.

Bates began chipping away at UNE's lead in the final six minutes, starting with a hoop and two free throws by Ellis, followed by a three-point play by Gallant which made it 69-59 with 4:58 to go. UNE bumped back to 13, but the first of Hatch's ultra-deep threes cut it back to 10, and a steal and pair of free throws by first-year Kyle Philbrook (Auburn, Maine) made it 72-64 with 3:24 remaining.

Thompson rebounded a missed free throw by Ellis, drove the floor and dished to Knotek for a crucial layup that bumped the lead back to nine at 76-67 with 1:32 left. Senior Ben Thayer (Gorham, Maine) hit a reverse layup for Bates, then blocked a shot, leading to another three by Hatch, making it 76-72 with 30 seconds left. J.J. Roseman hit a pair of free throws to increase the lead back to six, but Ellis answered with a scoop in the lane with 16 seconds left. After Knotek hit one of two free throws, Wilson rebounded a missed three by Hatch, raced out behind the arc and nailed an improbable three to cut the margin to 79-77 with 3 seconds left, leaving Jefferson to hit the clinching two free throws.

Bates will play host to Endicott College on Thursday at 5:30 p.m.; UNE takes on New England College at home on Saturday at 3 p.m.

STATS: UNE 81, Bates 77