There are few greater joys in life for an athlete than getting to play in front of their parents.
For the 12 University of Maine men’s basketball players who live outside the United States, that’s not often possible. But Lebanese-born senior guard Sergio El Darwich finally got his chance Wednesday night and delivered a memorable performance.
With his father Samir and mother Nahia watching from their seats at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, the Black Bears’ co-captain erupted for a career-high 36 points to go with 10 assists and nine rebounds as UMaine outlasted UMass Lowell 104-98 in overtime.
“I said on the radio afterward that we’ll be playing the rest of our home games in Beirut, Lebanon,” joked UMaine coach Richard Barron, referring to El Darwich’s hometown. “It’s going to be a long commute for some of us but we’re going to expect a good performance from Sergio.”
El Darwich’s parents had arrived on Monday to see their son play in person for the first time since he was a 15-year-old back home in the Beirut suburb of Dekwaneh. That was long before stops at Lee Academy, South Dakota State, Western Texas College and, for the last two years, at UMaine.
“I just wanted to make them proud,” El Darwich said. “Five or six years ago when I used to play in front of my father he never missed even a practice. He’s been having a hard time not seeing me because of the far distance so he was so happy to come here.
“It was emotional, but that’s all right. It was a good game.”
Samir El Darwich has been able to watch his son’s UMaine games via live streaming, but that often requires him to rise early or stay up very late — 7 p.m. in Bangor is 2 a.m. the next day in Beirut.
Samir El Darwich found Wednesday night’s live look at his son, during UMaine’s first America East victory of the season, much more enjoyable.
“It was very good,” he said. “I expect that from him.”
El Darwich’s offense was consistent throughout the contest, with 14 points in the first half and 13 in the second half before scoring half of UMaine’s 18 overtime points.
The 6-foot-4 guard nearly had a double-double in the second half alone, dishing out seven assists — the last one on an Andrew Fleming layup for the Black Bears’ final basket of regulation play with 39 seconds left.
One of El Darwich’s primary targets was freshman guard Precious Okoh, who scored all 14 of his points during the second half and overtime. He was assisted by El Darwich on four of his five field goals, including two 3-pointers.
“I know coach is counting on me, and I was able to get Precious open shots because they were double-teaming me or helping a lot on me,” El Darwich said. “I saw him and he made all the shots, he had a great game.”
El Darwich opened the overtime by feeding senior center Miks Antoms for a dunk, then made a 3-pointer that gave UMaine the lead for good at 93-91 with 2:01 left. A 6-for-6 effort from the free-throw line helped the Black Bears (5-13, 1-3 in America East) secure the victory.
“He was in a nice rhythm,” Barron said. “He was scoring at the rim, he was scoring on post-ups, shooting the ball off the dribble and shooting off the catch. He had a variety of ways of scoring and obviously every single one counted.”
El Darwich improved his scoring average for the season to 13.1 points per game, 13th best in America East and second on the team behind Fleming (15.3 ppg). He also ranks second in the conference in steals per game (1.6) and is fourth in assists (4.0).
El Darwich seems to thrive playing in front of family.
When his brother Sami came to Bangor to watch him play last season, El Darwich scored 26 points during a double-overtime loss to Central Connecticut State. He hit buzzer-beating 3-pointers to tie the game at the end of both regulation and the first overtime.
“Sometimes you try to overperform for your family or friends, but he played with great confidence,” Barron said.
El Darwich’s parents will see their son play three more games before returning home and he hopes to make the most of them, particularly for his team.
“I believe this [UMass Lowell] game was a huge turnaround for us,” he said. “Hopefully against Binghamton [at 2 p.m. Sunday in Bangor] we’re going to perform the same way, keep the same intensity and try to get another victory.”