Saturday, January 16, 2010

Black Bears 67, Stony Brook 61

A win like this was more than improbable the past several years. Impossible is more like it.

Using a stifling defensive effort and good work on the offensive end, the Black Bears (10-6, 2-1) rallied from a 14-point deficit two minutes into the second half for a stirring victory against Stony Brook.

The Seawolves (11-8, 3-2) are expected to contend for the America East title and were off to the best league start in school history. Leading 40-30 at half behind the 3-point shooting of Muhammad El-Amin and Bryan Dougher, things looked bleak for UMaine when the defense sagged and allowed a couple easy hoops to open the second half.

Particularly galling was an uncontested three by El-Amin and a lay-up in which the entire Black Bear team was beat down the floor.

Coach Ted Woodward, in a motivational ploy coaches don't like because it usually is only good a time or two during the season, subustituted en masse. He sent four players in. Sparked by Terrance Mitchell (10 points and a good job gurarding El-Amin), Andrew Rogers (5 points, 3 assists), Mike Allison (4 points, 2 rebounds) and starter Troy Barnies (18 points, 9 rebounds and countless hustle plays), the Black Bears steadied themselves and gradually cut into the lead, trailing by five at the 15-minute mark and 1 at the under-12 timeout.

The Black Bears shot 61 percent in the second half to finish at 53 percent for the game. Stony Brook, after blistering the nets in the first half, finished at 38 percent. The Seawolves had only two 3-pointers in the final half after dropping six in the first.

When starters Junior Bernal, Sean McNally and Gerald McLemore reentered the game, they helped finish the deal. Bernal had seven points and seven rebounds. McNally had eight points and nine rebounds and McLemore had 10 points.

For what seems the first time in years, a crowd at Alfond Arena was into the game as the Black Bears completed the comeback. That is fun to see and the players most surely must appreciate the support.

There were any number of "winning" plays made in this game by different Black Bears: Barnies diving for a loose ball at mid-court, winning the battle and calling a timeout; McNally's huge 3-pointer that sealed the win; Rogers hit a big three; Mitchell's suffocating D on El-Amin and Allison/Barnies/McNally banging blow for blow with Stony Brook's top rebounders, Tommy Brenton and Dallis Joyner.

After seasons of seven and nine wins, respectively, the past two years, the Black Bears are at 10 and counting. The last time the Black Bears had double-digit wins was 2006-07 when the team finished 12-18. The 2004-05 team went 14-15.

Can this Black Bears team surpass those totals? Good things happen to teams that stay together, play hard and sacrifice on defense. This team seems to be figuring that out and is also showing in spurts they can score in different ways. That's a good sign. But to say anybody saw this in the tea leaves? C'mon.

How improbable is all this? Moments after the final score had posted, CBS ran a graphic during its Michigan Sate/Illinois game displaying the logo of four schools making bids for their first NCAA appearances. The schools: Army, William & Mary, Northwestern and, yes, that's right, UMaine.


1 comment:

MattT said...

At half time I had no reason to believe Maine had any chance to win this game. What an inspired second half they played. Troy Barnies was a joy to watch out there. He busted his hump, put the team on his shoulders and led the way. Mitchell was a an absolute pest. He was in El-Amin's jock and destroyed his rhythm. McNally's 3 was huge. He shot that ball with confidence and expected it to go in. I don't know where they'll end the season but I'm enjoying the ride so far.