With the second-most regular season wins in program history already and a chance to be the second seed in the upcoming America East conference tournament, life is a bit surreal for the University of Maine men’s basketball team these days.
The Black Bears who were 9-21 last season and eighth among the nine AE teams before ending their season with a preliminary playoff loss to No. 9 Hartford, find themselves in rare territory as they prepare to take on Boston University in their regular-season finale today.
A Bears win combined with a Vermont loss would make Maine the No. 2 team in AE and would mark the first time the Maine men have been seeded second or higher since 2000.
The 2:30 p.m. game will be televised live from Boston by New England Sports Network and can be heard live statewide on the Black Bear Radio Network and on the Internet (www.GoBlackBears.com)
After snapping a six-game losing streak to the Terriers earlier this year with a buzzer-beating basket by Mike Allison, the 19-9 Bears (11-4 in AE play) are looking for their first regular-season sweep of BU since the 1999-2000 season.
Maine hasn’t had this many victories before the postseason since the 1999-2000 season, when they went 24-7, but don’t expect any of the current team members to suddenly develop a superiority complex.
“I don’t think we look at ourselves as a first-place basketball team,” said Maine head coach Ted Woodward. “We just look at ourselves as a team that’s trying to get better and learn.”
With 10 road victories this season (a number that ties them for second-most in the nation through Feb. 18), the Bears — who won a total of seven games as a visiting team the last two seasons combined — are no longer road kill.
“Our guys enjoy being on the road and we enjoy being with each other, so I guess it doesn’t really bother them that much,” Woodward said.
Despite being the only senior on the Maine squad, point guard Junior Bernal says his team’s success has a lot to do with experience and maturity.
“I think being a year older and more mature, we understand we have to come to play every game and keep our focus, whether we’re up or down,” said Bernal.
Specifically, Bernal says it has to do with consistency, especially in the way the team plays defense.
“It’s something we always talk about, locking down on defense, being vocal and helping each other,” Bernal said. “We’re executing things a lot better now and not taking plays off on defense.”
Statistics bear him out.
Maine is No. 1 in the league in scoring defense (holding opponents to 61.4 points per game) and field goal percentage defense (Maine is the only team to hold teams under 40 percent shooting at 39.4), second in steals (7.3 per game), third in blocked shots (3.2) and fourth in 3-point field goal percentage defense (34.2 percent).