ORONO, Maine — It wasn’t pretty from an offensive perspective, but it looked mighty good on the scoreboard to the University of Maine men.
The Black Bears won their third straight basketball game and sixth in the last seven with a 56-42 America East conference victory over New Hampshire at Alfond Arena Monday night.
“We physically got manhandled. That was very obvious,” said UNH coach Bill Herrion. “They really got into us and we had a lot of trouble with that.
“We’re really struggling on offense, but give them credit. They really pushed out on our 3-point shooters and we had no place to go inside.”
The Bears shot just 35.4 percent from the field but held the Wildcats to 27.8. Maine also controlled the boards, outrebounding UNH 45-35 overall and outscoring the Wildcats 24-6 in the paint and 14-6 on second-chance points.
“They went inside from the opening tip on and we couldn’t. I think that was the difference in this game,” said Herrion, whose team falls to 6-10 overall and 1-4 in America East.
Junior Sean McNally led the Bears, now 11-6 overall and 3-1 in the league, with 13 points and eight rebounds, but he also dished out a team-high four assists.
“We play team defense, but we also play team offense and find the guy with the hot hand, and that’s what we did tonight,” said the 6-foot-7 junior from Gardiner. “I don’t mind passing the ball and I’d rather get an assist for two points rather than try to force something down underneath.”
The Bears didn’t force much as they eschewed the 3-pointer after going 2-for-8 in the first half (0-for-2 in the second) and attacked the paint.
“We knew from the beginning we were going to start off feeding the ball inside and we wanted to cut inside to the basket,” said senior guard Junior Bernal (nine points, nine rebounds, three assists and two steals). “We knew that would create shots for people.”
There were shots for a lot of people as eight of nine Maine players scored at least two points. Terrance Mitchell came off the bench to score at least 10 points for the fourth straight game. The junior guard had 10 points to go with six rebounds.
“I love being a starter, but if it makes the team better having me come off the bench, I don’t mind,” Mitchell said. “I just want to bring energy and I don’t want to be selfish.”
The Bears, who got into the bonus just eight minutes into the second half and the double bonus with 4:51 to play, hit 10 of 13 foul shots in the last 3 minutes, 37 seconds and outscored the Wildcats 9-2 in the final 2½ minutes.
“We talked about it and wanted to play solid for 40 minutes and I think we did that defensively tonight,” said Maine head coach Ted Woodward, whose team had seven steals.
Each team had 13 turnovers.
After going into halftime down by 10, New Hampshire cut the lead to one point (33-32) midway through the second half via a 9-2 scoring run, but Maine responded with an 11-3 run of its own over the next six minutes to go back up by nine.
Neither team could generate much offensive tempo, let alone maintain it early, as Maine shot 29.6 percent from the field in the first half and UNH managed a dismal 17.9.
Tyrone Conley led the Wildcats with 13 points. Russell Graham had six points, eight rebounds and seven assists.
“Conley and [Alvin] Abreu are their two leading scorers and we wanted to make it difficult for them, but I think we played very good team defense,” Woodward said. “That was the key in this game.”
Abreu shot 0-for-8 and was held to just one point — 12.5 below his season average.
“They’re much more athletic and physically strong [than previous years],” said Herrion. “This is our fifth conference game and they’re as good as anyone we’ve played so far.”
Maine jumped out to an 18-8 lead and never trailed or was tied in the game.
“I told everyone we had to come out right from the jump, and as you can see, it made a difference being able to go into halftime with a 10-point lead and not having to dig out of a hole,” said McNally.