ALBANY, N.Y. — Andres Torres’ off-balance, 22-foot, 3-point bank shot off the glass with 51 seconds left wasn’t the game-winner for the Hartford Hawks, but it may as well have been.
The ninth-seeded Hawks looked like the team that returned four starters from the America East conference runnerup squad last year and the No. 8 University of Maine men looked like an inexperienced team of sophomores and freshman as the Hawks ended Maine’s season with a 65-56 basketball victory at SEFCU Arena.
The 7-25 Hawks prevailed in the AE tournament preliminary game thanks in part to clutch free throw shooting (8-of-8) in the last two minutes, Torres’ shot, and the heady guard play of senior Jaret von Rosenberg and the Black Bears’ season ended with a play-in game loss for the second straight year.
“We know we have a very young group and we had some very uncharacteristic, unforced turnovers,” said Maine head coach Ted Woodward. “We’ve been working like crazy all week on our rebounds because that’s been one of the issues for us. We have to work on one thing without getting slippage in another area and that comes from maturity.”
The Black Bears committed 18 turnovers to Hartford’s nine, but more importantly, the Hawks outscored Maine 25-12 in points off turnovers.
“They converted on a lot of them,” said guard Gerald McLemore, Maine’s freshman guard and AE all-rookie team pick. “They played a good game, but we certainly gave them a helping hand.”
And what the 9-21 Bears didn’t give the Hawks, von Rosenberg took, to the tune of a game-high 21 points — 18 of which came in the second half.
“I have to credit my coaches and teammates for that,” von Rosenberg said. “I really haven’t shot the ball that well this year, but they keep telling me to shoot. They’ve got to eventually fall in, right?”
That’s the way it seemed, and Torres’ 3-pointer pretty much symbolized that point. Hartford’s sophomore guard was slightly off balance when he squared up for a shot as the shot clock counted down its final second, but his shot from the right side banked off the glass and in.
“That’s going to get under any team’s skin, working your butt off 34 seconds and them making a shot like that,” said Maine sophomore forward Sean McNally, who ran at Torres as he took the shot. “He hit a big shot when they needed it.”
As did many of the Hawks, who shot 51.1 percent from the field for the game.
Just about everyone got into the act for Hartford. Freshman center Genesis Maciel, who Woodward tried to recruit for Maine and as a result found McLemore in the process, gave the Hawks a big early lift by scoring three straight baskets and four total in a four-minute span that saw Hartford go from 20-15 down to 33-25 up in the first half.
“That was a big lift. We had a stretch where we were kind of stagnant offensively and he really helped get us going there,” said Hawks coach Dan Liebovitz.
Maine trailed by as many as 10 in the second half, but closed the gap to one with a 9-2 run that made it 54-53 Hartford with 2:29 left in the game, but two free throws by von Rosenberg on a 1-and-1 and Torres’ shot sparked a game-ending 11-3 run.
McLemore led the Bears with 13 points, but he was Maine’s only double-digit scorer.
McNally was held to nine points after scoring seven in the first half.
“They did a great job changing their game plan at halftime. They came out and fronted us in the post, which we’re not used to since not too many teams front anybody anymore,” said McNally, who had seven rebounds and four assists.
Maine still outrebounded Hartford 29-20, and outscored the Hawks 28-24 in the paint.
“They really took advantage of the high-low attack,” said Hartford’s Michael Turner. “We weren’t playing good help-side defense, so we tried to switch up defenses and keep them from getting any rhythm themselves. I think it really helped take away their inside presence, which really hurt us last time we played them.”
Morgan Sabia chipped in with 13 points and five rebounds for Hartford, which advances to play No. 1 Binghamton Saturday night.
Kaimondre Owes came off the bench to score nine points and make two assists in his final game as a Black Bear.