ORONO — Freshman forward Murphy Burnatowski showed Alfond Arena basketball fans Canada has more than the Winter Olympics going for it Wednesday night as the Waterloo, Ontario, native scored a career- and game-high 20 points to lead the University of Maine to a 66-53 victory over the University of Albany.
The Black Bears roared out of the gate in the second half and led by as many as 20 points before beating Albany on senior night.
Burnatowski scored 13 points in the first half and also led the Bears with six rebounds, four steals and two blocks as he helped them clinch at least a third-place finish in America East with one regular season game left.
“The first few fell, so after that, it felt good to get loose outside and score a few easy baskets off our defense,” said Burnatowski. “Over the past few games, I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable on offense, and a lot of that is my teammates finding me.”
Maine can move up to second place with a victory over BU this weekend and a Vermont loss to Binghamton. If Maine and Vermont both win, Vermont gets second place because it swept Maine during the regular season. The Bears and Vermont are both now 11-4 in the league.
Gerald McLemore, who is leading the country with 97 3-pointers, hit three Wednesday and scored 13 points for the 19-9 Bears.
McLemore is making his 3-point prowess work for him even when teams are paying him special defensive attention and double-teaming him.
“If I come off a screen and they’re hedging on me, and a big guy flashes out, I look for an opportunity to pass the ball and I think that’s something I had troubles with earlier on and turned the ball over at a much higher rate,” McLemore said.
The Bears roared out of the locker room and into the second half, outscoring Albany 14-5 in the first seven minutes. Maine would use a 17-1 scoring run over a seven-minute span in which five different players scored to take a 57-37 lead with 9:07 to play. Maine held Albany scoreless for four minutes during that span.
Maine got off to a slow start while the Great Danes raced to a solid lead at 18-8 five minutes in. Albany singed the nets with a 48.1 shooting percentage from the field overall in the first half, but dropped to 26.7 in the second.
“I think we were being much more physical in the second half and we pushed our defensive pressure out more,” said Maine coach Ted Woodward. “I think it started with us pulling our defensive pressure back together in the second part of the first half.”
Lone senior Junior Bernal scored 10 points in his last regular season game at Alfond to go with six assists and two steals.
“I’m a little nervous before every game, but once all the senior night stuff was done, I was just focused on the game,” said Bernal, who was honored in a pregame ceremony with his family.
Maine committed a season-low six turnovers, just one of which came in the second half, and outscored Albany 14-5 in points off turnovers as the Danes committed 15.
Maine also shot 36.4 percent from 3-point range.
“We did a better job on McLemore after he had 21 on us last time, but everybody else hurt us this time around,” said Albany coach Will Brown. “Burnatowski hurt us with three 3s and that’s disappointing because we know he can shoot.”
Albany was led by Logan Aronhalt, who scored 15 to lead the 7-23 (2-13) Great Danes. Fran Urli scored 11 off the bench and led the team with six rebounds.
Albany had no players grab more than six boards, but outrebounded the Bears 43-33 overall.
“I can sum this up pretty quickly,” said Brown. “We shot 8-for-30 in the second half and they shot 8-for-22 overall just from the 3-point line.”
Freshman big man Mike Allison and Maine junior guard Malachi Peay both were cited by Woodward for solid games off the bench. Allison had six points, five rebounds and a blocked shot in 11 minutes and Peay had two points, four rebounds, a steal and an assist in 12 minutes.