Husson University men's basketball coach Warren Caruso cheers his team on during Sunday's exhibition game at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor against the University of Maine. Credit: Courtesy of Tyler Hewey

Exhibition basketball games between Division I teams and Division III opponents not only provide an early baseline for the big guys, but they also offer plenty of introspective intel for the challenging small-school team.

In Husson University’s case, Sunday’s 76-50 loss to the University of Maine at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor represented an early dress rehearsal for the reigning North Atlantic Conference tournament champions.

The Eagles entered the contest having held only nine preseason practices.

“I think it’s a good game for us to play,” longtime Husson coach Warren Caruso said. “It’s two local teams, and our guys get an opportunity to play a Division I team at the Cross Center.

“Our guys are excited about the challenge. We like to play this game — we’d like to have more than nine practices, but it is what it is.”

Despite giving up considerable height at every position, Husson hung within 12-8 through the first 10 minutes of the contest. The Eagles were sparked by the quickness of guards Justice Kendall and D.J. Bussey, before UMaine scored 12 unanswered points to take control and eventually extended its lead to 39-17 at halftime.

“It’s like any time you start a season and play for the first time you learn something about yourself, but I thought it was a pretty good game in a lot of aspects,” Caruso said.

Bussey finished with 15 points and Kendall added 10 points and five assists.

Justin Thompson of East Millinocket, Husson’s 6-foot-4 All-North Atlantic Conference swingman, added six points and five assists. He also handled much of the defensive assignment against UMaine’s top player, 6-7 senior forward Andrew Fleming.

Fleming, a preseason All-America East selection, led the Black Bears with 18 points and 10 rebounds.

“We go into this game thinking, ‘Can we execute what we’ve got at this point at a high-enough level to compete?’ In the first half I didn’t think we did. In the second half I thought we did a better job,” Caruso said.

“When you test yourself at the highest level you get exploited, and we got exploited in some places that probably we already knew about. But now we can go to our guys and say, ‘See?’ This is what we’ve talked about.”

Husson, which finished 17-11 year ago after making its seventh NCAA Division III tournament appearance, has nearly two weeks before making its regular-season debut Nov. 9 at Pine Manor. That will be the first of five consecutive road games for the Eagles before their Dec. 7 home and conference opener against Northern Vermont-Lyndon.

Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...