HARTFORD, Conn. – It took a season to become contenders again in America East.

And one game to end it all.

The University of Maine men’s basketball team exited the America East tournament Saturday night, losing 68-57 to New Hampshire in the opening round at the University of Hartford.

The end came much earlier than anticipated for a team trying to reach 20 wins for the first time in almost a decade.

“Obviously they’re disappointed. We had some good plans coming down here,” Maine Coach Ted Woodward said of his players.

“I thought (UNH) did a good job the entire game playing very physical. I think our guys did a good job fighting and unfortunately hit a couple of droughts, in the first half and again in the second.”

The third-seeded Black Bears (19-11) easily beat New Hampshire twice during the regular season, 56-42 and 72-53. But the Wildcats used a 24-6 run early in the second half to take control.

New Hampshire (13-16) advances to the semifinals tonight against second-seeded Vermont. It’s the Wildcats’ third trip to the semifinals in five years.

“I’m really, really proud of our kids. They really fought. They didn’t back down,” said New Hampshire Coach Bill Herrion.

“We beat a really good basketball team. We had never had a lead against Maine in 80 minutes of basketball this season.”

Maine opened a 9-4 lead and stayed in front for much of the first half, despite struggling with shot selection.

But the Black Bears managed just four points in the final 7:34 of the half, and UNH pulled ahead, 26-24.

Maine was just 8 for 24 from the field and 8 of 14 from the free-throw line in the first half.

New Hampshire, meanwhile, hit just 11 of 32 shots.

Gerald McLemore, Maine’s top 3-point shooter, was 2 of 7 from 3-point range for the game and was held to seven points.

“Obviously, McLemore is a terrific player and was great against us at UNH a few weeks ago,” said Herrion. “We did an unbelievable job on him tonight. … I’m proud of the kids.”

McLemore said New Hampshire’s defense was too much to overcome.

“Defensively they were very physical,” he said. “We know how they play. We were physical. But we made key mistakes on offense. And they did play great perimeter defense.”

Things quickly got worse for Maine in the second half as New Hampshire went on a 14-3 run to open a 41-29 lead with 13:24 left.

Maine got no closer than eight the rest of the way.

Sean McNally, who led the Black Bears with 16 points, said New Hampshire’s defense was the difference.

“I was getting easy dish-offs (in the first half). They stayed with a hand in my stomach the whole second half,” said McNally. “I had to work harder to get post position.

“It was a great adjustment they made keeping a hand on me. I didn’t get those easy looks.”

Terrance Mitchell added 11 for Maine.

New Hampshire got 13 points apiece from Alvin Abreu and Brian Benson.

 

NOTES: Maine sophomore guard Andrew Rogers was named to the America East all-academic team.

 

Staff Writer Jenn Menendez can be contacted at 791-6426 or at:

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