ORONO, Maine — With two starters and a key reserve out, the University of Hartford Hawks came into Alfond Arena undermanned for Sunday afternoon’s America East basketball game against the University of Maine.
The Black Bears took advantage of the absence of the Hawks’ leading scorer and second-leading rebounder by working an inside angle and dominating the paint en route to a 66-52 victory.
“They wore us down physically,” said Hartford coach Dan Leibovitz. “We couldn’t consistently stop [Sean] McNally. Whether fully manned or not, he’s a tough matchup for us.”
The junior forward from Gar-diner led the 18-9 Bears with 16 points and 16 rebounds — his fourth double-double of the season.
“We have to lock down on defense, attack the glass, and keep going at the rim on the offensive end to put them in foul trouble and give us easy baskets,” said McNally, who also had two blocked shots.
The Black Bears, who maintained their hold on third place in the AE standings with a 10-4 league mark, outrebounded Hartford 16-6 offensively and 49-26 overall while outscoring the Hawks 38-14 in the paint and 16-7 in second-chance points.
“We really tried to focus on re-bounding because it’s something we’ve had trouble with in the past, so we boxed out and offensively attacking the glass and getting second shots,” said freshman forward Murphy Burnatowski, who had seven points and 10 rebounds.
Maine senior guard Junior Bernal had his third career double-double and first of the season with 10 points and 13 rebounds to go with a game-high six assists and three steals.
“He’s been doing that for us all year, but I didn’t even notice his statistical line until looking at the stat sheet just now,” said Maine head coach Ted Woodward.
The 6-5 guard drove inside gaps on the blocks and scored six straight points to lead a 9-2 Maine run late in the first half and four straight in the second to help fuel a 12-4 surge by the Bears in a game they never trailed.
“We try to start our offense by giving it to the big guys down low, but Sean and the other guys do a good job of passing the ball out of the post, so that was a focus for me today,” said Bernal.
Maine jumped out to a 13-4 lead and never really looked back after going up 28-15 with two minutes left in the first half.
Hartford was missing starting guard Joe Zeglinski, forward Anthony Minor, and reserve guard Andres Torres due to unspecified team rules violations.
“It didn’t happen today and I don’t want to make more of this than it is,” said Leibovitz. “This isn’t criminal behavior. This is something I wanted to make a statement on as a coach. I hope the message sinks in and I think it did.”
Milton Burton led the 7-20 Hawks — who at 5-9 and sixth place in the conference, could be Maine’s quarterfinal opponent in the AE tournament — with 23 points, four assists and three steals. Morgan Sabia was held 6.1 points below his scoring average with six to go with six rebounds.
“I don’t think our game plan changed a whole lot because we came out with a mindset to lock down the five guys out on the floor,” said McNally. “We knew Sabia was a great shooter so we were all over him in the first half.”
For the game, Maine shot 42.9 percent from the field compared to Hartford’s 35.7. Hartford scored 22 points off 14 Maine turnovers while Maine had 10 off 11 by Hartford.
“We held another team under 40 percent and got a number of different contributions from our guys,” said Woodward.