Bears rally past Columbia

Posted Dec. 30, 2009, at 10:48 p.m.

NEW YORK — The University of Maine men shook off a nine-hour bus ride and a nine-point halftime deficit to rally for a 65-59 victory over Columbia University on Wednesday night.

Junior forward Sean McNally of Gardiner led the Black Bears with 16 points, seven rebounds and three steals.

After McNally and Terrance Mitchell carried much of Maine’s offense in the first half, sophomore guard Gerald McLemore and freshman forward Murphy Burntatowski helped lead the charge in the second along with senior guard Junior Bernal.

“We didn’t really do anything well in the first half. Our execution was sloppy and we didn’t play with a ton of energy,” said Maine coach Ted Woodward. “We looked like we just got off a nine-hour bus trip. In the second half they responded very well and locked them down on defense with our pressure, rebounded, and distributed the ball better.”

Maine took the lead for good at 54-50 with five minutes to go and led by as many as seven but never less than four the rest of the way.

Woodward was happy with the way his 6-5 Maine squad rebounded in the second half.

“This was different [compared to other halftime deficits this season]. This is the one where we were struggling against a good team, but we rallied and put things together in the second half,” he said. “We are deeper and more mature this year, and I think it’s that we’re a little tougher, too.

“Guys are accepting more responsibility and we’re getting more leadership, and it shows in games like this. I also like the new pieces we’ve added with our bench strength in particular.”

Pieces like Burnatowski, who scored all 11 of his points in the second half, and Mitchell, who finished with 14 after scoring 10 in the first half.

Burnatowski led a UM bench that outscored Columbia’s 17-12. McLemore finished with 12 points and four rebounds.

As solid as the Bears played offensively in the second half (50 percent shooting from the field), Woodward pointed to defense as the key to the win.

“To hold them to 21 percent in the second half while shooting 50 percent ourselves in the second half was a heck of a job,” said Woodward. “We were really going primarily with our quick lineup to use our athleticism and defense.”

Maine committed 16 turnovers, but harassed the 5-6 Lions into 22, including 13 on Black Bear steals. Maine also outscored Columbia 27-20 in points off turnovers.

That difference helped Maine offset a 36-29 rebounding edge by Columbia, which shot 31.9 percent from the field for the game after hitting 41.7 percent of its shots in the first half.

The Lions were led by Niko Scott, who scored 16 points, and 6-foot-7 forward Brian Grimes, who had 14 points and eight rebounds.

Despite the rebounding deficit, Maine outscored the Lions 20-10 in the paint.

Columbia, one of the nation’s best 3-point shooting teams, hit 6 of 15 from the perimeter.

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