BANGOR, Maine — A .500 start in conference play does not by itself a contender make.
But when it follows a 15-game nonconference slate with six revenue-producing guarantee games that typically end up as road losses, a 1-1 start to America East play represents progress for the University of Maine men’s basketball team.
UMaine scored a 76-73 win at Binghamton on Saturday after a heartbreaking 71-70 loss at Stony Brook on Thursday when the Bears rallied from a 20-point second-half deficit to take the lead in the final 20 seconds only to lose on UC Iroegbu’s 3-pointer with 4.2 seconds left.
“It was great to get a win against Binghamton especially after what we went through at Stony Brook, a game we really thought we should have won,” Walsh said. “We showed a ton of resilience and character and heart, and it was really important for our guys to understand that they’re good enough to win.
“It’s hard to keep learning lessons from tough losses. It would feel a little better to be 2-0, but it’s better than 0-2.”
UMaine went 3-12 during its nonconference schedule, but the narrow loss to Stony Brook followed by the win at Binghamton at the end of a six-game road stretch suggest the Black Bears weren’t defeated by those losses.
“Coach talked during the nonconference season about how those games would help us be at the highest level possible for conference play,” said redshirt junior guard Aaron Calixte, who was named America East co-player of the week after averaging 19.5 points, 6.0 assists and 3.5 rebounds against Stony Brook and Binghamton.
“I wouldn’t say it was easy, but I feel like we’ve made a good transition from nonconference to conference games.”
UMaine (4-13 overall) will attempt to score its first home victory of the season against an NCAA Division I opponent Wednesday night in a conference battle against Maryland Baltimore County (10-7, 1-1 AE).
UMBC features America East’s leading scorer in guard Jarius Lyles (20.3 points per game) among a bevy of long-range shooters, and the Retrievers share the conference’s team scoring lead at 77.4 points per outing.
Offense has been more of a struggle for UMaine, which averages an America East-low 66.6 points per game despite its improved output in its first two conference encounters, when the Black Bears averaged 73 points.
“It’s hard to win in the 50s and the 60s,” Walsh said. “You’ve got to be really good defensively. I wish I knew what magic had happened, but guys just seemed to be more comfortable during that second half against Stony Brook.”
UMaine also would like to break through in America East play on its home court at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, where the team has won just two conference games each of the last two seasons.
The UMBC game marks the first of two straight America East home games for the Black Bears, who host the University at Albany on Saturday.
“It’s definitely going to be a battle,” sophomore forward Andrew Fleming said. “The whole conference schedule is going to be a battle, we just have to bring out our all every night and continue to get better. Hopefully at the end of the season we’ll be one of the best teams in the conference.”
Follow BDN Maine Sports on Facebook for the latest in Maine high school and college sports.