Troy Barnies and Maine beat both Penn State and Boston University by double digits this winter.
The Nittany Lions are preparing to take on Temple in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The Terriers celebrate a chance to shock the world against Kansas, embracing the faith that they are the No. 16 seed that finally will take out a No. 1.
Barnies, like the rest of us, will spend Thursday afternoon not sweating where the committee squeezed his team into the bracket, but trying to figure out where his cable or satellite provider slotted TruTV.
His basketball career — at least this fast-moving, four-year segment — is over.
Maine’s season of unprecedented promise, piggybacked by bitter disappointment, ended abruptly March 5 with a loss to Hartford in the America East quarterfinals.
Picked in multiple quarters as the preseason favorite, hailed as a potential “bracket buster” in the tradition of fellow mid-majors Gonzaga and Butler, Maine didn’t earn an NCAA or NIT berth or even finish above the .500 mark.
“We didn’t meet expectations,” Barnies said. “For the seniors and the team we had, we didn’t have a very good season.”
The road win over Penn State was a high point. Seven straight midseason wins moved the Black Bears to the top of America East.
But eight losses in the final nine games sent Maine to a frustrating 15-15 finish. Last in line was a third defeat at the hands of Hartford, a team that lost 20 games.
“For the seniors like Sean McNally and me, we were coming off a junior season where we felt we really turned things around. We had a good stride going into our senior year. The chemistry just wasn’t there,” Barnies said. “I don’t think our intensity and urgency during games was the same. I tried to inspire them. We tried so hard to change that. We just couldn’t seem to find that magic that we had our junior year.”
Individually speaking, the Auburn man enjoyed a banner year.
Barnies led Maine with averages of 14.3 points, ninth in America East, and 7.7 rebounds, fifth-best in the league. He was named first-team all-conference and to the National Association of Basketball Coaches All-District I second team.
“I don’t think I became a better basketball player. I just had more of a sense of urgency knowing that this was it,” Barnies said. “I wish I had that mentality three years ago. You don’t realize when you’re a freshman how quickly it will be here. You can’t understand it until you experience it.”
Barnies arrived at Maine after winning the state’s Mr. Basketball award as a senior at Edward Little High School in 2007.
Together with onetime rival McNally of Gardiner, Barnies gave the men’s basketball program a homegrown presence it had lacked since Rumford’s Andy Bedard left Boston College to play his final two seasons in Orono.
A promising junior year heightened hopes and statewide interest. Maine won 19 games, several at the expense of higher profile, non-league opponents, before falling to New Hampshire in the America East quarterfinals.
“Definitely the pressure was there. It was noticeable how many more TV people wanted to talk to us,” Barnies said. “We had a lot to prove. It was, ‘Hey, you did this last year. How much more can you do this year?’ But we were a different team. We had our ups and downs. Our communication on and off the court was lacking at times. We had a lot of doubts.”
Barnies scored 10 points in Maine’s 66-63 playoff loss to Hartford on the Hawks’ home court.
It was his fourth consecutive postseason defeat and the sixth straight for Maine, triggering painful memories of Barnies’ high school senior swan song.
EL went undefeated during the 2006-07 regular season before being upset by Hampden in the quarterfinals.
“I cried a lot. I haven’t cried like that since senior year of high school when we got knocked out of the tournament,” Barnies said. “All the seniors teared up in the locker room. It hit us that we weren’t ever going to wear the Maine jersey again. To see all our teammates and hug all the coaches for the last time, it was very emotional.”
As is the case with the end of any chapter in life, Barnies has subjected himself to second-guessing, much like a grieving process.
“You get to that point your senior year where you kind of wish you would have done more and you realize that it’s too late for you,” he said. “You wish you would’ve had that sense of urgency four years ago.”
In those somber days immediately following the end of his run at Maine came brighter news for Barnies, and a sign that basketball might not be over.
Through one of his assistant coaches, Barnies has been in contact with an agency that puts college players on track to play professionally overseas.
Barnies, a 6-foot-7, 210-pound power forward at Maine, would make the transition back to small forward or even shooting guard in the pros.
“I’m going to have the chance for sure to play pro basketball. It’s an awesome opportunity,” Barnies said. “It’s like getting recruited all over again. It’s something I’m absolutely going to try.
“It’s a chance to keep representing this state,” he added. “I can’t wait.”
Copyright (c) 2011, Sun Journal, Lewiston, Maine
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