LEWISTON — Down by two in the final minute, Bates College had the opportunity it needed to complete the come back Tuesday night.
The Bobcats just couldn't make the ball drop, and watched the University of Southern Maine emerge with a 71-66 win in a battle of unbeaten area college teams.
Bates worked the ball inside to Ed Bogdanovich. Despite being double-teamed, he got a shot off that didn't fall with 23 seconds left. After the significant defensive stop, USM hit the free throws down the stretch to seal the win.
"We were trying to work inside and out," Bates coach Jon Furbush said. "They'd double team, and we'd either get a good look for our post player or get a 3 on a kick out. I told them if you sign me up for that shot for 24 games, I'd take it."
Bates got within two on a Graham Safford drive with 13 seconds left, but the Bobcats couldn't overcome USM's free throw shooting. Alex Kee sank a pair with 20 seconds left and with 13 remaining. Then Mike Poulin added one with five seconds left.
"In the last minute and a half, we got stops and made foul shots," USM coach Karl Henrikson said. "That's what you have to do. The right guys went to the foul line, and my guys did a good job feeding the ball to the high percentage foul shooters."
Kee finished with 21 to lead USM (3-0). James Odneal had 18, including four 3's. Conor Sullivan and Poulin chippped in 13 and 11 points respectively.
"It was a good win," Henrikson said. "People don't know how good USM is. We were 11-15 last year. They don't realize we were 7-1 in Maine. We're very good and play in one of the toughest conferences. They feel real good about this win because they've got a lot to prove. "
Bogdanovich led Bates (2-1) with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Mark Brust added 10. Bates shot 38 percent in the second half and just 39 percent overall for the game.
"If teams are going to shoot well against us, we've just got to stop the bleeding and try to shoot at a better percentage than we did tonight,"Furbush said.
Bates was down by as many as 14 in the second half. Down 39-33 at the half, the Bobcats got within 39-36 early in the second half. USM answered with a 12-3 run that made it 51-33. Bates started the second half hitting just three of its first 14 shots.
Back-to-back 3's from Derek Murphy started a quick Bates rally midway through the half. A basket by Sean Cunningham had the lead down to 57-52 with 9:33 left.
"We allowed ourselves to get too emotionally up,"Henrikson said. "We didn't play at an even keel."
USM got a reverse layup from Sullivan and a jumper from Odneal to put the lead back to 64-54, but Bogdanovich scored in the paint and Mike Boornazian scored on a baseline move to get within 64-58 with 5:36.
After a Poulin jumper, Bates scored six straight to get within 66-64 with 1:20 left. Bogdanovich scored inside. Boornazian scored on the baseline again and Graham Safford sank a pair of free throws.
USM struggled to get a basket, and Bates was forcing turnovers in the late rally.
"I knew they'd come back," Henrikson said. "They made a few adjustments. We had to go back to man for a few minutes and then went back to zone late in the game."
Despite getting within two twice in the final minute, Bates couldn't get any closer.
"They played a great game,"Furbush said. "Unfortunately for us, they just made more plays than we did tonight."