When we pulled into the hotel, we ran into the Black Bears just as they were breaking up their pre-game meal Friday afternoon. We exchanged best wishes with several of the players, the coaching staff and had a nice chat with Trainer Paula Linder.
Instead of breaking up the trip into two half-days of travel as they had done in previous years, the Black Bears practiced in Orono the morning of March 5 then boarded the bus for the trip to Binghamton. The Bears practiced Thursday at the Events Center and then took in a movie.
Friday brought the AE awards banquet, a shootaround and the play-in game against Stony Brook.
The play-in game served as one final snapshot of the UMaine season: good at times, OK at times, but not consistent enough to finish the job. Ahead 41-30 with 16 minutes to play, the Black Bears offense went dormant and the Seawolves ended up pulling away in the extra session for a 73-65 decision.
A strong play-in game crowd of 2,202 witnessed some stellar shooting from Mark Socoby (tourney-best 30 points) as the sophomore kept the Black Bears afloat with an assortment of long-range 3-pointers. His final bomb, a 25-footer over two Stony Brook defenders with 4 seconds on the clock, sent the game to overtime at 57-all.
Socoby finished with a tourney record nine 3s, surpassing a record held by, among others, Kevin Reed -- Socoby's brother-in-law. Congratulations to Mark.
Freshman Sean McNally played a strong game inside, putting up 9 points and grabbing a game-high 13 rebounds.
Hopefully, the Black Bears will remember the sting of the past three early exits from the tournament and let that motivate them as they prepare to move back up the America East standings next season. For perspective, look no further than this year's AE championship game combatants. Hartford a year ago, needed to rally from 19 points down to win in the play-in game. UMBC was in the play-in game just two years ago.
The Black Bears have not won a tournament game since 2005, the first year the tourney was held at Binghamton.