ORONO, Maine — This time around, the University of Maine men made almost all the right moves down the stretch.
Just four days after missing a couple chances to win a game they ended up losing in overtime, the Black Bears rallied from six points down in the final 6½ minutes to snap a five-game losing streak and post a 68-63 victory over the University of Hartford Wednesday night at Alfond Arena.
The Black Bears, now 8-16 overall and 4-8 in America East play, used a 12-2 scoring run in the last two minutes to turn a 58-56 deficit into a 68-60 lead with seven seconds left.
“We hit a patch in the second half where we just weren’t taking what the defense gave us and forced a few things, but then we did start taking what the defense gave us down the stretch and got some defensive stops,” said Maine coach Ted Woodward.
One of the biggest stops came with 4:02 left when freshman guard Gerald McLemore blocked a 3-point attempt by Andres Torres as the shot clock ticked down to 2 seconds, snatched the rebound in midair, raced down the court and found Maine teammate Malachi Peay, who managed to score with a one-handed scoop shot while being fouled.
“It wasn’t the biggest game-changing plays because we had many of them, but it was one of the biggest,” said Peay, who scored 12 points.
Peay missed the free throw, but the play tied the score at 56 and cemented UM’s newfound momentum.
“Once they got the momentum, we never really got it back,” said Hartford coach Dan Leibovitz, whose Hawks have lost nine straight since beating Maine Jan. 14. “It was kind of like pick your poison for us because [Mark] Socoby really got going and in the second half, we didn’t really have an answer for [Sean] McNally, who was very effective and efficient inside.”
Even when McNally (14 points, eight rebounds) drew his fourth foul with 8:35 left, the Bears barely missed a beat inside as Peay came in for him and teamed with Troy Barnies to total 20 points and six boards.
“We got 34 points and 15 rebounds out of our three big guys and no one was shooting under 50 percent,” Woodward said. “That’s big for our three sophomores.”
Foul shooting, inconsistent at best for Maine this season, was also big for the Bears as they canned 15 of 17 total and all 10 in the last 93 seconds.
Another vexing problem, turnovers, was not on Wednesday as Maine committed just nine overall to Hartford’s 10 and outscored the Hawks 16-15 in points off turnovers. Maine also had a 17-13 edge in bench points.
“I think our depth showed up out there tonight with the guys we have coming off the bench making contributions,” McNally said. “I think that’s what won us the game.”
Socoby, a junior guard from Houlton, wound up with 15 points total after scoring 12 in the first half.
McLemore finished with 10 points and five rebounds while Junior Bernal turned in a solid floor game for Maine with a game-high six assists and just one turnover.
Hawks’ 6-foot-5 swingman Michael Turner led them with 26 points, eight rebounds, and three steals.
“They’re hard to guard because they’re athletic and quick and they spread the ball out, but Turner getting his fourth foul [with 6:07 left] was pivotal,” Woodward said. “It kind of allowed us to mix our defense up a little and that gave us momentum.”
The Hawks were without first team all-conference guard Joe Zeglinski, who is out for the season with a knee injury.
“We’re 3-13 without him,” said Burden, whose Hawks are now 6-20 overall.