ORONO – Four accomplished seniors on the University of Maine women’s basketball team have the talent to steer the team back to its customary place atop America East. What they needed early this season was a signature win. They got it Saturday night, on the shoulders of a freshman who wasn’t supposed to take the last shot and had every right to run from that responsibility kicking and screaming.

Amanda Tewksbury missed her first seven attempts from the field against Clemson. Her eighth, an open 18-footer from the right wing, made the telltale swoosh as time expired and hoisted Maine to an 80-78 victory in the championship game of the Dead River Company Classic at Alfond Arena.

“That’s a kid that takes 1,000 shots a day in practice,” Maine coach Ann McInerney said of Tewksbury, a 5-foot-10 guard from Clinton, N.J. “She’s a gym rat. For her to make that shot speaks volumes about what this group hopes to accomplish this year.”

Preseason expectations weren’t the highest in Maine history, but the buzzer-beating triumph boosted the Black Bears to a smattering of accomplishments that haven’t happened very often.

It’s only the third time Maine (4-1) has won its annual Thanksgiving weekend tournament, and the first in 11 years.

The program’s 4-1 start is its best since 1997-98. And the last time Maine defeated a charter member of the Atlantic Coast Conference? Seventeen years to the day, when the Black Bears beat Wake Forest.

“I think when you start a season the way we have, there’s going to be a lot of excitement,” said senior Bracey Barker of Bar Harbor. “We just have to keep it going this way, and it’s going to be a very good year.”

Maine’s seniors were sensational, combining for 66 points.

Barker finished with team highs of 24 points, seven rebounds and five assists and was named most valuable player. Ashley Underwood added 22 points, including four of the Black Bears’ nine 3-pointers, and dished to Tewksbury for the game-winner.

Lindsey Hugstad-Vaa (11 points, five rebounds) and Katie Whittier (nine points, four boards) anchored the frontcourt, helping Maine out-rebound the slightly bigger and quicker Tigers.

D’Lesha Lloyd led Clemson (2-3) with 16 points. Christy Brown added 14, with Adrianne Bradshaw, Tasha Taylor and Carrie Whitehurst each notching nine.

Perhaps the most telling statistic: Maine was 23-for-26 from the free-throw line, while Clemson made and attempted only two freebies all night.

“The officiating was absolutely horrible,” said Clemson coach Cristy McKinney. “Maine is a good team. They didn’t need that. It tells me that I don’t ever want to come up here again if it’s going to be like that. If it’s bad at both ends, I can live with that, but it wasn’t going the same way at both ends.”

McInerney chalked up the disparity to Maine’s switching zone defense, primarily a 2-3 arrangement that limited the effectiveness of Clemson’s 6-4 Bradshaw and 6-3 Moreemi Davis while forcing the Tigers to dial long distance.

Clemson canned eight 3-pointers in a wide-open game that saw both teams blow big leads. Maine was down 10 in the first half before Barker and Underwood fueled an impressive finishing kick.

Whittier scored her first two points on a pair of free throws with less than a second remaining to give Maine a 41-40 lead at the break.

The Tigers used a 10-4 run to regain a five-point edge, only to see Maine seemingly take control with a flurry of 3-pointers. Underwood nailed one from NBA range to put the Black Bears on top by nine, 70-61, with 7:50 left.

It was their last field goal until the Tewksbury heroics.

Clemson scored eight unanswered points, including 3-pointers by Brown and Carrie Whitehurst, to reclaim a 75-74 edge with 2:26 to go. Underwood nailed two free throws with 2:11 to go, however, and she swished another pair with 25.6 ticks on the clock to put Maine up by three.

Lele Hardy’s inbounds pass from underneath the basket found Brown for the tying 3-pointer with 12.6 seconds left. Maine promptly crossed half-court and called timeout to diagram its final play, which was designed for Underwood to penetrate and pitch to Whittier.

“But I couldn’t see her (through the defense), so I somehow got the ball to Tewks,” Underwood said. “And thankfully she didn’t pass it back to me.”

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