ORONO — The University of Maine has won seven men’s basketball games this season in large part because of its defensive efforts.
The Hartford Hawks were able to make the Black Bears do some extra work on that end of the floor Wednesday night and took advantage of their own patience and unselfishness.
Seniors Joe Zeglinski and Morgan Sabia combined for 23 second-half points and Hartford made six 3-pointers after intermission to pull out a 61-59 America East men’s basketball victory over the Black Bears at Alfond Arena.
The Hawks (4-10, 1-0 AE) shot 58 percent (15-for-26) from the floor in the second half en route to an eight-point lead that forced UMaine (7-7, 1-1 AE) to play catchup.
“We kind of thrive on playing defense every game and we strayed away from that today,” said senior co-captain Troy Barnies of Auburn, who led UMaine with 18 points and five rebounds.
“Defensively, we couldn’t get a streak going where we got stop after stop,” he added. “Our team needs to realize when we win it’s because we play defense.”
Zeglinski scored 13 of his 16 points in the second half and Sabia (7 rebounds) connected for 10 as Hartford seized the momentum early in the second half and maintained it. The Hawks went 9-for-20 from 3-point distance, including 6-for-10 in the second half.
“We were just satisfied with taking some guarded shots, not moving the ball, to the credit of Maine’s (man-to-man) defense,” coach John Gallagher said of Hartford’s first-half effort.
“In the second half, we just talked about getting easier baskets, reversing the ball more and cutting better,” he added.
That strategy put extra pressure on UMaine’s defense, which often wound up surrendering open shots while defenders chased players around.
Zeglinski played almost 40 minutes and Sabia logged 39, while Milton Burton (12 points) and Clayton Brothers played 35 and 34, respectively.
Hartford took the lead for good midway through the second half. Zeglinski opened a key 8-0 spurt with three foul shots, then drained a 25-foot 3-pointer. Sabia’s slick 17-foot fallaway from the right baseline — with Barnies in his face — made it 50-42 Hawks with 9:00 remaining.
“I thought they really exploited us some in the second half,” said Bears coach Ted Woodward. “They shot a very high percentage, which we’re not used to giving up.”
UMaine made a strong challenge in the final six minutes, but the hosts could not come up with enough stops or key offensive plays on the offensive to regain the upper hand.
Sparked by two baskets by Murphy Burnatowski, the Bears got even at 57-57 on Barnies’ low-post move with 2:43 remaining. However, Anthony Minor (6 assists) answered with a baseline reverse layup 13 seconds later to put the Hawks on top for keeps.
UMaine had an opportunity to tie or go ahead, but a turnover by point guard Andrew Rogers (9 points, 3 assists) ended the first possession.
Then, after Hartford scored again, Burnatowski turned the ball over.
“We didn’t move the ball as well as we could have, individually and collectively,” Rogers said. “I think a lot of that falls on us, but I definitely give them credit for mixing up their defenses. They played very well tonight.”
Even so, UMaine had a chance to win it, but Terrance Mitchell passed up a 3-pointer and Burnatowski’s subsquent 3-point attempt glanced off the rim as time expired.
“We fought our way back,” Woodward said. “They made a couple plays and, unfortunately, we didn’t make the final play.”
Hartford played a combination of man-to-man and a trapping 1-3-1 zone that helped hound the Bears into 14 turnovers, including eight in the first half.
Gerald McLemore tossed in 13 points for the Bears, who shot 50 percent (24-for-48) from the floor but got to the foul line only four times (6-for-8), none in the second half.
The Bears return to action Saturday at Maryland Baltimore County.
BEAR TRACKS: Among those in attendance Wednesday was former Cheverus High of Portland standout Keegan Hyland. The 6-foot-3 shooting guard recently decided to leave Gonzaga University in Washington in the hope of transferring to a school in the Northeast.
Hyland, who reportedly also will visit the University of Vermont this week, is hoping to hook on with another Division I team and enroll in classes for the second semester. That would enable him to become eligible in January 2012.
Hyland, who was seen with Carl Parker of Bangor, his former AAU coach, is recovering from a knee issue and postconcussion symptoms stemming from first-semester injuries.
UMaine sophomore Jon McAllian, a reserve shooting guard from Bangor, missed his third consecutive game while recovering from a facial injury suffered in a recent practice.