On Saturday, Feb. 1, the University of Maine men’s basketball team hosted the Hartford Hawks for a showdown in the Memorial Gymnasium. The game quickly became a defensive battle, and Maine fell in a close 55-49 contest.
The Black Bears had a fast start, quickly grabbing a 10-3 lead. The entirety of the team struggled to shoot early on except for fourth-year guard Sergio El Darwich, who managed to keep Maine in the game. Darwich, with help from first-year guard Peter Stumer and first-year forward Stephane Ingo, continually pressured the paint and had strong ball movement to get past the Hawks defense early.
At five minutes into the first half, the Hawks caught their footing against Maine’s offensive push, managing to level the score at 18-18. A quick three-pointer from first-year forward Miroslav Stafl, followed by stolen inbound and layup from second-year forward Hunter Marks. The quick momentum change shook the Black Bears out of their rhythm, and they had fallen to a seven-point deficit heading into the half.
Both teams came out of the intermission playing aggressive defense allowing minimal scoring, as a multitude of turnovers, steals, and blocks for both teams encompassed the first minute of the second half. Eventually, fourth-year forward Andrew Flemming broke the game back open, hitting an easy layup in the paint. Two quick fastbreaks for Ja’Shonte Wright-McLeish gave Maine an easy four points, but for every bit that they chipped away from the Hawks’ lead, Hartford would respond in turn. Five minutes into the second half, Maine caught fire, racking up an 11-2 run led by Wright-McLeish and good defensive efforts from Flemming. A few strong layups contributed by first-year guard Precious Okoh brought Maine back into contention, but only temporarily.
This would tie things up with a little less than 10 minutes left at 33-33. Hartford subbed out a majority of their starters and brought in fresh players off the bench, leading to both teams duking it out in the paint for the final 10 minutes of action. The Hawks had their own stellar run, playing lockdown defense while outscoring Maine 12-4 to take an eight-point lead with five minutes left in the game. In an attempt to make a last-minute comeback Maine took the lead down to six points, and although it appeared Maine was finding their rhythm, it would be too late, resulting in a six-point loss.
This win could have been crucial to Maine, as Hartford has been competitive, getting six conference wins this year. Maine continues to function well on the defensive end of the ball, but struggles with scoring as they ended the day with 31% from the field and 16.7% from the three-point line. Maine only had one player in the double-digit scoring in El Darwich, who managed to lead the team with a minimal 15 points scored. Flemming also contributed as he made huge defensive stops and racked in 13 rebounds. Another key to Maine during the loss was Ingo, who managed to score seven points, grab five rebounds, and get two blocks all in less than 14 minutes into the first half.