BANGOR, Maine — The University of Maine played solid defense on Wednesday night. Yet as has been the case much of the season, it wasn’t good enough.
The University of Hartford connected for a dozen 3-pointers on 44 percent shooting and executed better at the offensive end in the second half to pull away for an 82-74 America East men’s basketball victory over the Black Bears at the Cross Insurance Center.
Coach Bob Walsh’s Black Bears (8-20, 4-11 AE) suffered their seventh consecutive loss heading into Saturday’s season finale at Binghamton.
“We should be better than we are. We should be able to come out and perform better for 40 minutes than we’ve been performing,” said a disappointed Walsh, who shoulders the blame for failing to have his team playing more consistently.
“I’ve got to do a better job of connecting with this team and getting this team to come out and to play well for 40 minutes. That’s our job,” he added.
The contest was tied 61-61 at the 6:36 mark, but Hartford scored 10 unanswered points to extend its advantage to 10 points and force UMaine to chase the game.
The Hawks clogged things up with their active 2-3 zone defense, which helped take away baseline penetration and cover 3-point shooters.
At the offensive end, Hartford was able to spread out the Black Bears and do a better job of attacking the basket, which resulted in more fouls.
“In the second half we had better movement. We were looking for specific actions coming out of halftime,” said Hawks coach John Gallagher. “We made one adjustment with our ball-screen offense, and I think that helped us.”
Hartford’s ability to get to the foul line was critical. The Hawks made six free throws during their key run and converted 15 consecutive foul shots down the stretch to hold UMaine at bay.
Hartford went 20-for-23 at the foul line, but only outscored UMaine by three from there. The visitors also shot 50 percent (13-for-26) from the floor in the second half.
“I just feel like our intensity on the defensive level wasn’t there second half,” said UMaine’s Shaun Lawton who, along with Till Gloger, was honored as part of “Senior Night.” “I think that’s why they jumped on us and why they got downhill scoring layups and stuff.”
Explosive junior guard Pancake Thomas connected for 23 points, including 5-for-7 shooting from the 3-point arc, to spark Hartford (9-21, 4-11 AE). The Hawks had plenty of contributions as Jalen Ross provided 14 points and three assists and George Blagojevic provided 10 points and eight rebounds.
UMaine was led by 23 points, eight rebounds, four steals and three assists from freshman Issac Vann, while Lawton contributed 13 points and five rebounds and Aaron Calixte posted 12 points and five assists. Gloger finished with six points and four rebounds.
“The two seniors, Shaun Lawton and Till Gloger, they’ve done a lot for this program and the America East,” Gallagher offered. “I think what they’ve done should be commended.”
The Black Bears shot 42 percent overall, but could not get into a good offensive rhythm in the second half despite shooting 44 percent. UMaine outscored the Hawks 34-18 in the paint.
Hartford grabbed the upper hand as Ross opened the game-changing spurt with two free throws. Thomas canned a 12-foot jumper, then made two foul shots after a UMaine turnover to push the lead to six with 5:32 left.
After Gloger missed the front end of a bonus, Ross made two more free throws and Jack Hobbs scored off a loose ball under the basket to give the Hawks a 71-61 advantage with 3:06 remaining.
“We couldn’t put 40 minutes together,” Walsh said. “We looked tentative on offense, we looked uncomfortable defensively in the second half, and I’ve just got to do a better job.”