BANGOR, Maine — If the University of New England Nor’easters blow into the playoffs this season, they may credit this weekend’s 41st Paul Bunyan Tournament for setting their course.
The UNE men used overall shooting, rebounding, defense and depth to persevere in a tight game and edge the host Husson University Eagles 74-71 in Saturday’s tournament championship at Newman Gymnasium.
The 4-3 Nor’easters of Biddeford played their best defense down the stretch as they shut out the Eagles in the final 90 seconds. And it was a good thing for UNE that it already held the lead because the Eagles held UNE scoreless for the final 110 seconds.
After Husson’s Nick Perras missed a shot from the low post with 16 seconds left, Chas Rentrope grabbed the rebound but threw the ball out of bounds. Following a Husson timeout, Perras took a 3-point shot that bounced off the rim and was rebounded by teammate Matt McKenzie. McKenzie passed back out to the perimeter to Perras, who squared up to shoot another 3. His shot with two seconds left was blocked out of bounds by Jaykyri Simpson, and Husson had one last-gasp effort with half a second left.
“It was just a reaction. I respected his jump shot and didn’t want to foul him, so I just tried to time it and I got it,” said Simpson, who also had nine points, eight rebounds and five assists.
Blaine Meehan inbounded the ball from the right side to Jay Uhrin, who got a good look from the right wing, but his 3-point attempt went off the rim and the Nor’easters held on.
“The seconds couldn’t go fast enough because every single one of Husson’s guys can knock down a 3,” said UNE coach Jason Mulligan. “They had a couple good lucks at the end. I almost had a heart attack.”
The game was close throughout. Husson’s biggest lead was eight points and UNE’s was 10.
“It really came down to a two- to three-minute stretch in both halves where we broke down defensively and gave them easy shots and/or turned the ball over,” said Husson coach Warren Caruso, whose Eagles are now 1-4. “The biggest difference in the game is our turnovers, which occurred at times where they got scoring runs out of them, and missed foul shots.”
Husson hit 10 of 18 from the foul line, but just three of six in the last eight minutes and two of those were the front ends of 1-and-1 foul shots. The Eagles also committed 21 turnovers.
“They’re quick like us, but they’re a little stronger, so it came down to us getting loose balls and rebounds, which is scary when you don’t have a guy over 6-4 on the court and the 6-4 guy wants to be a guard,” Mulligan said.
For the third straight game, the Nor’easters outrebounded their opponent, this time 32-27. They also outshot Husson despite a solid 48.2 percent effort from the floor by the Eagles. UNE finished at 52.6 percent overall despite shooting just 4-for-17 from 3-point range.
Tournament MVP Anthony Johnson led UNE with 18 points, but it was the effort of guys like Chas Rentrope, a former starter now coming off the bench, that made a big difference in this game.
After playing 11 minutes in the first half, Rentrope scored 12 of his 14 points and got three of his four rebounds and three of his game-high six steals in 16 second-half minutes.
“Last year I started, but this year I know my role off the bench,” said Rentrope, who was named to the all-tourney team. “I just go out there and try to make plays. If it’s for the better of the team, I’m fine with it.”
Johnnie Jefferson rounded out UNE’s top scorers with 12.
Meehan, a senior from Winterport, led the Eagles with 15 points. He also had five rebounds and four steals.
Guard Brock Bradford from Kenduskeag and fellow junior Matt McKenzie of Warren each scored 14. Perras finished with 11 and Scott Kissinger had eight points and eight rebounds.
In the consolation game, Hamill Bassue and Jimmy Lopez scored 20 and 19 points, respectively, to lead the University of Maine-Fort Kent to a 128-72 win over UM-Presque Isle and go over the 1,000-point mark for their careers. Bassue and Lopez were two of seven players to score 11 or more for the 2-5 Bengals, who shot a scalding 60 percent from the floor.
Ray Mitchell led the 0-4 UMPI Owls with 26 points and six rebounds, while Ronald Spencer had 21 points.
The all-tourney team consisted of Mitchell, Meehan, McKenzie, Johnson and Rentrope.