The University of Maine at Presque Isle men’s basketball team celebrated senior day on Feb. 17. The Owls have advanced to the North Atlantic Conference semifinals on Friday. Pictured (from left): Senior Chad Bartlett, second from left, flanked by parents Dave and Connie Bartlett; Jaylon Eggleston, Coach Mark Knight, senior Te’Von Hines, KJ Minter and Coach Dan Kane; Shyquinn Dix, Ms. Shirley and senior Eric Anthony; and senior Wilburn Griffiths flanked by parents Althea Griffiths and Wilburn Griffiths Sr. Credit: Courtesy of University of Maine at Presque Isle Athletics

The University of Maine at Presque Isle men’s basketball team was 4-11 overall and 0-7 in North Atlantic Conference play after a 70-64 homecourt loss to Thomas College of Waterville on Jan. 22.

It marked the Owls’ seventh consecutive defeat.

Postseason play wasn’t among the team’s immediate considerations at the time, but the last month has changed all that.

Coach Danny Kane’s club has won nine of its last 11 games since then and gone 6-1 in conference play. That includes Saturday’s 87-86 quarterfinal victory at Thomas that advanced UMPI to the NAC semifinals set for Friday night at the University of Maine at Farmington.

No. 5 UMPI (13-13, 6-8 NAC) faces top-seeded UMF (21-4, 13-1 NAC) in the opening game at 5:30 p.m., followed at 7:30 by No. 3 Husson University (12-14, 8-6 NAC) against No. 2 SUNY Canton (14-11, 10-4 NAC).

Friday’s survivors will advance to Saturday’s 2 p.m. title game, also at Dearborn Gymnasium on the UMF campus. The NAC champion earns an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III tournament.

UMPI led by 17 points early in the second half of its quarterfinal victory over No. 4 Thomas, but the Terriers rallied to take an 86-83 lead entering the game’s final minute before Owls’ sophomore guard Chris Brown scored to make it a one-point game.

UMPI got the ball back and sophomore forward K.J. Minter made two free throws after being fouled with 29 seconds remaining to give the Owls the lead for good.

UMPI enters Friday’s semifinal boasting a balanced offense led by 2019 All-NAC first-team junior guard Shyquinn Dix, who is averaging 16.9 points, 6.6 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game.

Sophomore guard Griffin Guerrette of Presque Isle, last year’s NAC Rookie of the Year, has averaged 15.2 points per game while shooting nearly 40 percent from beyond the 3-point arc. Former American Collegiate Athletic Association Rookie of the Year DeAndre Duncombe, a junior guard, has averaged 12.3 ppg and along with senior captain Te’Von Hines (12.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg, .417 3-point percentage) have been other offensive catalysts.

Minter has averaged seven rebounds over UMPI’s last nine contests while Brown and senior forward Will Griffiths have provided depth and timely scoring during the Owls’ playoff push.

This weekend’s trip to the NAC semifinals marks the latest step in the recent growth of the UMPI program.

UMPI became affiliated with the NCAA in 2009 but compiled a 10-50 record against NCAA Division III foes between 2009 and 2017.

The Owls went 13-14 during the 2017-2018 season and doubled the most NCAA wins they had in a single year en route while advancing to the American Collegiate Athletic Association championship game when they fell to Pine Manor College 62-53.

UMPI joined the North Atlantic Conference last year and earned the sixth and final conference playoff berth before losing at No. 3 SUNY Canton 85-63 in the quarterfinals.

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...