When it came to the University of Maine men’s basketball team, much of the attention, especially early this season, was on the Black Bears’ backcourt.
That focus was understandable, given the Bears had plenty of scoring talent back with their guard corps, a heralded freshman guard and a much smaller lineup after the graduation of 6-foot-9, 300-pound center Brian Andre.
Those outside the squad theorized that Maine’s guards would have to attack the paint more often just to keep the battle of the boards from becoming a runaway for any opponent with a big lineup.
That same concern wasn’t shared by head coach Ted Woodward and his Black Bears, however, especially forwards Sean McNally of Gardiner and Troy Barnies of Auburn, along with guard-turned-forward Malachi Peay.
That three-headed sophomore rotation has not only turned in some solid play in the paint this season, it has become a strength headed up by the quiet, consistent, blue-collar play of McNally.
Maine is fifth out of nine America East teams in both offensive (11.6 per game) and defensive rebounds (23.2).
The 6-7, 250-pound McNally has teamed with his fellow sophomores to keep Maine more than respectable on the boards and make things anything but easy inside for the opponents.
“Sean is one of the toughest big guys in the league to guard,” said 6-8 New Hampshire center Dane DiLiegro. “He’s just a big, wide body and the way he gets position is tough to manage.”
DiLiegro should know. He’s played McNally head-to-head twice this season and is fifth in the league in rebounding with 7.0 per game. Just ahead of him? McNally with 7.4.
“I just try to keep working on getting position to either put the ball back in, or make it hard for guys to set up and get easy shots or put-backs,” McNally said.
According to DiLiegro, he’s doing a good job.
“He’s a tough guy to fight down low in the post,” DiLiegro said. “When he gets in, I don’t know what he’s going to do so I just try to stick my hands up and contest the shot. He’s a really good player on both ends.”
McNally has drastically improved his freshman statistics, 5.5 points and 4.9 rebounds per game and starting 14 of the 30 games he played in to 9.6 and 7.4, respectively this winter, with starts in all 29 games. He’s also gone from 11 blocked shots last year to 41 — good for third in the league.
“He has really elevated his game this season and as good as he’s become, we know he can become even better,” said Woodward.
That’s not going to be good news to DiLiegro and the rest of the AE’s returning big men.