Trying to determine what is my favorite tournament memory, whether it be a team or an individual performance, is very difficult. I decided to go with both a team and the individual who led it to the Eastern Maine tournament.
In 1965, the Presque Isle Wildcats had only one returning veteran and were not considered to be a tourney contender. However, they had an outstanding point guard by the name of Byron “Barney” Smith.
The Wildcats, under first-year coach Eugene “Dint” Lovely, finished sixth in the Heal Point ratings with a 12-6 record.
Another reason for their improvement was the play of 6-foot, 8-inch sophomore Jim Condon and 6-3 senior Mike Robertson along with Daryl Sponberg and Ralph Delano, who were subs the previous year. Sophomores Dick Hafford, Don Smith and senior Scott Mason contributed significantly.
In the quarterfinal round, Presque Isle faced No. 3 Brewer, which had a 13-5 record. Led by Barney Smith’s 34 points and floor leadership and the inside play of Condon and Robertson, the Wildcats defeated the Witches 89-77.
In the semifinal, Presque Isle faced a tall, full-court pressing team from Winslow that went into the tournament ranked No. 2 and was undefeated at 18-0.
Presque Isle took a two-point lead (41-39) at halftime and in the third quarter Condon (17 points), Robertson and Don Smith began clearing the boards. Barney Smith put on a sensational overall performance as the Wildcats went on to defeat the Black Raiders 76-62.
Barney Smith again led the scoring with 28 points while turning in a great exhibition of playmaking. It was his ball-handling that had the experts buzzing as he tallied more than 20 assists, which just may be a tournament record.
In the Eastern Maine final the Wildcats faced No. 1 Stearns of Millinocket, which also was undefeated at 18-0. Barney Smith was charged with the unenviable task of guarding Jon McDonald, who was considered to be one of the top two players in the state along with Joe Harrington of Morse.
Stearns started out quickly, taking a 7-1 lead, but Presque Isle went out in front 13-7 behind Barney Smith, Condon and Hafford. The Minutemen regained the edge and took a 35-27 lead at the half and maintained a 59-47 edge at the end of the third period.
Barney Smith’s defense on McDonald and Jim Condon’s offensive work (18 points) cut the Stearns lead to 65-61 with 2:12 to go. Stearns went on to win the game 71-61, but Barney Smith’s defensive work was the talk of the game.
He held the fabulous McDonald to one field goal, although McDonald scored 12 of his 14 points from the foul line. Barney Smith finished the game with 18 points.
He was the complete package as a player. He could score (80 points in the tournament) and was an excellent defender and playmaker who possessed a high basketball IQ.
Smith went on to play freshman basketball at Duke University, where he emerged as a two-year starter and one of the leading hitters for the Blue Devils’ baseball team.
Barney Smith’s goal of playing on a tournament team came true as a senior, and such coaches as Red Barry, George Wentworth, Larry Shiner, Terry Spurling, Skip Chappelle and many others joined in acclaiming Byron “Barney” Smith among the all-time greats of Eastern Maine tournament play.
About the author: Jim Carter of Presque Isle is a retired teacher and coach in the Caribou school system. The Presque Isle native is the author of “Six Decades of Wildcat Basketball: A History of Boys & Girls Basketball at Presque Isle High School 1950-2009,” which was published in 2009 by Northeast Publishing. He also wrote “Aroostook Basketball History & Eastern Maine Tournament History,” which was self-published. The 1971 Husson University graduate, who retired in 2001, has since been a fixture on the County basketball scene as a commentator on TV, radio and the internet, most recently doing live streaming at wagmtv.com