The stat line for Stephane Ingo during the University of Maine men’s basketball team’s 71-64 victory over New Hampshire on Monday night was modest — one point, seven rebounds and three blocked shots.
Much more important to the Black Bears’ first Division I and America East victory of the season were the 24 minutes and 12 seconds the 6-foot-9 redshirt junior forward from Mississauga, Ontario, played in his first game action since Nov. 27 after undergoing wrist surgery,
“He certainly impacted the game on the defensive end,” UMaine head coach Richard Barron said. “It’s going to take a while for him to get back into rhythm offensively, but I think just emotionally having him out there gives us a lift.”
Ingo took just one shot from the field and made 1 of 2 free-throws, but also contributed offensively by setting screens for a UMaine team that made 14 of 28 3-point tries.
“I’m definitely tired, but that’s what it takes to get back in game shape,” Ingo said. “It’s been almost two months without playing so it just felt good to be out there. That’s part of the game, being tired, and you’ve just got to play through it.”
Ingo’s teammates — nine of them new to the roster this season — were glad to have him back in the starting lineup.
“We feel more confident when he’s in there, especially defensively,” said sophomore guard Vukasin Masic, a transfer from Hofstra. “You can expect that he’s going to block every shot and that makes playing defense easier.”
Ingo’s specialties at UMaine have been rebounding and rim protection. He has been one of the leading shot blockers in America East for each of the last two seasons, averaging 1.3 rejections per game two years ago and ranking second in the conference with 2.6 blocks per game during last winter’s abbreviated schedule.
Ingo was back to his shot-swatting ways at the outset of this season with six blocks in UMaine’s first three games, but when he went up to block a shot by former Black Bears’ teammate Terion Moss during a Nov. 12 game against UMaine-Farmington he landed on the wrist, and the team’s interior defense and rebounding had suffered since.
“We’ve missed that inside presence,” said junior guard Maks Klanjscek.
Ingo’s return to a frontcourt rotation that on Monday night included 6-9 redshirt sophomore Ata Turgut and 6-8 freshman Kristians Feierbergs — the reigning America East Rookie of the Week and fourth Black Bear to earn that honor so far this season — helped UMaine hold steady with UNH’s all-senior frontcourt of Nick Guadarrama, Jayden Martinez and Tayler Mattos, with Ingo posting game highs in rebounds and blocked shots.
Most of all, Ingo’s leadership helped the Black Bears (4-13 overall, 1-5 in America East) end a seven-game losing streak and improve their record in the border rivalry with UNH to 122-76 heading into a rematch against the Wildcats (7-7, 2-3 AE) at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Durham, New Hampshire.
“It felt great being out there playing with the guys and being able to help my team win,” said Ingo, one of the elder statesmen on a squad with five freshmen and four transfer newcomers this season.
“It’s been hard to just watch, especially when we’re losing. Just being out there and giving any kind of boost that I can, I found that with rebounding and blocking shots and not necessarily scoring but being a presence out on the court I think it helped a lot.”