BRUNSWICK – Anthony Ewing walked toward his University of New England bench minutes before the second half began and let out a deep breath.

“Four percent,” he said, holding up four fingers to illustrate his point.

That’s not good, not when it’s your team’s shooting percentage in a half.

And while the Nor’easters improved in the second half, it wasn’t nearly enough. Western Connecticut State used its in-your-face defense to pull away from UNE, earning a 59-41 victory in the first round of the NCAA Division III women’s basketball tournament at Morrell Gymnasium.

UNE (23-6) got within nine points twice in the second half, but the Colonials, winners of the Little East Conference, had the ability to counter any rally.

Western Connecticut will play Bowdoin at 7 p.m. today.

“We just didn’t seem to be able to make a play when we needed to,” said Kelley Paradis, a sophomore forward for UNE. “Even though we made a couple of runs, we didn’t keep it. It was frustrating.”

The first half pretty much decided this game. UNE hit just one field goal, missing 22 other shots.

The lone basket came with 3:26 left in the first half, a layup by Chelsey Meszaros on a nice inside pass from Katie Diggins.

The Nor’easters couldn’t hit anything from the outside, and when they went inside, Melissa Teel, a 6-foot-2 junior center, usually created havoc. She blocked four shots in the first half and altered several others. She finished with seven blocks.

“I think our (nervousness) would have gone away if we had knocked down a couple of shots,” said Ewing. “And that didn’t happen until the second half.”

By then it was too late. UNE trailed only 23-11 at halftime, its defense nearly matching the Colonials. But the Nor’easters could never get their offense untracked. While they closed to within nine a couple times early in the second half, they couldn’t consistently solve Western Connecticut’s defense.

“Honestly, it’s nothing we’ve done differently,” said Western Connecticut Coach Kim Rybczyk. “I feel we’re peaking as a team at the right time. We played our normal game plan, and all five understood their defensive assignments and carried them out as well as we have all season.

“These guys took (the defense) full throttle and never looked back.”

The Colonials blocked nine shots, forced 21 UNE turnovers and held UNE to 23.6 percent shooting.

“The kids played hard, but not smart,” said Ewing. “We didn’t handle ball pressure well and we didn’t play with our head on offense at all.”

UNE trailed 26-17 after a driving basket by Paradis with 15:19 left. But Karli Spera answered with a 3-pointer to push the lead to 12.

After Beth Suggs scored inside for UNE to make it 29-19, Heather Lee responded with another 3-pointer for the Colonials, and it was 32-19 with 13:24 left.

UNE’s next three possessions consisted of two misses and a turnover, and Katie Moffo hit an open 3-pointer from the right of the key to make it 35-19.

“Usually we get (Teel) the ball inside, there aren’t many teams that can match up with her,” said Moffo. “But they did a good job on her and we needed people to step up and hit the 3s. We have faith in our shooters.”

Lee led Western Connecticut with 14 points and Spera had 11. Teel finished with nine points, 19 rebounds and three steals in addition to her seven blocks. Moffo had nine points and four assists.

Carrie Bunnell led UNE with 10 points.

“We have a nice group coming back,” said Ewing. “There’s no satisfaction in reflection right now. It will be in a couple of weeks.

“We had a pretty good year.”

Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:

[email protected]