December 13, 2018
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UMaine men’s basketball team faces uphill challenge to end postseason drought

Ashley L. Conti | BDN
Ashley L. Conti | BDN
University of Maine head coach Bob Walsh is seen in this January 2017 photo yelling instructions to his team during their basketball game against Stony Brook at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.

The date was March 5, 2005.

The sixth-seeded University of Maine men’s basketball team, led by captains Joe Campbell, Chris Markwood and Freddy Petkus, upset No. 3 Boston University 47-45 in the quarterfinals of the America East tournament at Binghamton University in Vestal, New York.

It’s the last time the Black Bears achieved any postseason success.

Second-ranked Northeastern, led by current NBA guard Jose Juan Berea, defeated UMaine 86-73 in the 2005 AE semifinals, marking the first of 13 consecutive postseason defeats for the Black Bears — including opening-round ousters each of the last 12 years.

Eighth-ranked UMaine (6-25 overall, 3-13 in AE play) will try to emerge from that pit of misery against heavy odds Saturday night at top-seeded and regular-season champion Vermont (25-6, 15-1 AE) in a 2018 conference quarterfinal.

This meeting not only marks a rematch of last year’s Nos. 1-8 quarterfinal when Vermont rolled to an 86-41 victory, but the two teams closed out this year’s regular season against each other Tuesday night at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor where UMaine hung close well into the second half before Vermont pulled away to a 74-62 victory.

Though the postseason matchup loomed just a few days away, coaches Bob Walsh of Maine and John Becker of Vermont said game plans for that regular-season encounter weren’t altered in the interest of playoff preparation privacy.

“There’s not a lot of secrets in our league,” said Walsh, whose coaching future at UMaine is up in the air as he nears the end of the final year of his initial four-year contract. “Everybody’s got every possession on film now, so if you’re hiding something at this time of year you’re probably not all that smart because if it could work for you, you should be using it.”

UMaine is led by redshirt junior guard Aaron Calixte, who has rebounded from an injury-shortened 2016-17 season to earn third-team All-America East honors this week after averaging a team-high 17.1 points and 3.2 assists while shooting 89.8 percent from the free-throw line.

Redshirt sophomore guard Isaiah White (10.8 ppg) has provided a solid offensive complement late in the season, while sophomore forward Andrew Fleming (9.8 ppg, 5.4 rebounds per game) is coming off a season-high 18 points in the most recent meeting against Vermont.

UVM, which is 31-1 in America East regular-season play over the last two years, features two-time AE player of the year Trae Bell-Haynes, a 6-foot-2 senior guard who averages 14.9 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game.

He’s joined by three other All-AE choices in 6-3 junior guard Ernie Duncan and 6-8 senior forward Drew Urquhart (both second-teamers) and third-team forward Payton Henson, a 6-8 redshirt senior.

The Catamounts also got a boost in their regular-season finale from the return to action of 6-6 sophomore forward Anthony, the 2017 AE Rookie of the Year who had missed 17 games this winter with a foot fracture.

Lamb had five points and three rebounds in 11 minutes against UMaine, with the five points coming consecutively during a key second-half run by the Catamounts after the Black Bears had rallied from a 10-point deficit to forge a 39-39 tie with 15:48 left.

“We knew it was going to be a tough game,” said Becker after that contest. “Maine plays hard and we knew they were going to challenge us. We’ll see these guys next (game) and know that they’ll probably have some confidence after this game so we know we’ll have to play better.”

Patrick Gymnasium and its 3,000 vocal fans provides Vermont perhaps the biggest home-court advantage in America East, something else to challenge the Black Bears as they attempt to extend their season and end the program’s postseason drought.

“You’re going to have to score a little bit to beat them and they’re so composed and talented that you don’t have a lot of margin for error certainly,” said Walsh, “but I’m proud of the way our guys keep fighting and the way we’ve approached it. We’ve just got to play a little better and finish some plays on both ends a little better to give us a chance to win.”

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