The University of Maine men’s basketball team doesn’t plan to be consumed by its past failures.
Toward that end, the Black Bears are optimistic heading into Saturday’s America East quarterfinal matchup against Stony Brook at SEFCU Arena in Albany, N.Y.
Coach Ted Woodward’s team (6-22) goes into the postseason as the No. 7 seed and will take on No. 2 Stony Brook (21-9) in a 6 p.m. contest. UMaine’s win total is the lowest since 1956-57, when the Black Bears went 6-14.
“It’s a big challenge ahead of us,” Woodward said. “We’ve got Stony Brook, they’re a good team. We played them well (in Bangor on Feb. 23). You’ve got to beat good teams to be where you want to be.”
Where UMaine would like to be, come Sunday, is in a semifinal game. The program is mired in an eight-game postseason losing streak that dates back to the 2004-2005 season.
The Bears are coming off last Sunday’s 86-82 victory over New Hampshire, an effort that enabled them to end a six-game losing streak.
“I think this helped boost us,” sophomore guard Shaun Lawton said of the win. “We have Stony Brook in the first round. We played them tough last time, so we want this one.”
The most significant challenge for UMaine this season has been defense. The Bears rank last in conference play, allowing 78.3 points per game on 47 percent shooting.
UMaine has played both man-to-man and zone defenses in the half-court, but continues to work on a diamond-and-1 zone press that has helped the Bears come up with some turnovers and forced opponents to work harder to get into their preferred offensive mode.
“They have a certain sense of confidence in things they know they can do, so they see it in front of them,” Woodward said. “There’s no mystery about some of the things they need to do. They work at it and they continue to get better, so hopefully we can put some good ones together.”
UMaine has been one of the league’s most productive offensive teams throughout the season. The Bears are averaging 69.4 ppg and 14.4 assists in America East play behind a balanced lineup that can score from all areas on the floor.
The Bears’ effectiveness may be hampered Saturday by a left ankle injury to top 3-point threat Zarko Valjarevic. The junior guard (11.3 ppg, .438 3-pt. FG pct. overall) was hurt against Stony Brook, sat out the New Hampshire game and was limited in Friday’s practice.
Junior point guard Xavier Pollard leads UMaine with 14.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.7 steals per game, while sophomore guard Dimitry Akanda-Coronel (10.6 ppg) also is in double figures. The Bears’ other mainstays include Lawton (8.0 ppg, 4.3 apg, 2.0 spg), sophomore post player Till Gloger (7.7 ppg, 3.9 rpg), freshman guard Troy Reid-Knight (6.4 ppg, 2.4 apg) and sophomore forward Ethan Mackey (5.3 ppg, 4.9 rpg).
Stony Brook won both regular-season meetings, a 79-61 victory Jan. 26 on Long Island and a 83-79 decision Feb. 23 at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.
The Seawolves have won five of their last six contests. Their versatile attack includes post standout Jameel Warney (14.7 ppg, 7.9 rpg, .629 FG pct.), Anthony Jackson (12.9 ppg, 2.4 apg), Carson Puriefoy (12.7 ppg, 2.0 apg), Dave Coley (10.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg) and Ahmad Walker (7.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg).
The Stony Brook roster also includes Newport’s Chris Braley, a former Nokomis High School standout. The freshman guard has appeared in 23 games, averaging 1.2 points and 1.2 rebounds in six minutes per outing.
Stony Brook ranks second in conference play in scoring (69.6 ppg), FG percentage (.454), scoring defense (61.8 ppg) and rebounding margin (plus-7.3).