HARTFORD, Conn. – They’re not about flash and style.

No one player ever carries the team.

The University of Maine men’s basketball team is on the precipice of 20 wins and enters the America East tournament as a contender for the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

The reason for Maine’s success? It comes down to doing all the little things.

Maine (19-10, 11-5, America East), the No. 3 seed, will play No. 6 New Hampshire (12-16, 6-10) at 8:15 p.m. tonight.

The winner advances to the semifinals Sunday against Vermont or Maryland-Baltimore County.

“I would describe us as an old school basketball team,” said junior guard Terrance Mitchell. “We’ve got guys who step up, but nothing flashy at all. No egos. We don’t talk trash on the court. We just play ball.”

That ability to work as unit is what has worked for the Black Bears, said center Sean McNally.

And it’s what they’ll need to contend for the league title.

“We don’t have one guy we’ve got to rely on, who’s going to carry the team,” said McNally, a junior. “We’ve got to work together. All five have to work together to score, to get a big stop, to get the rebound.

“It will be a team effort and will take all 14 guys on our roster.”

Maine has had a string of sub-par seasons and hasn’t gotten close to 20 wins in six years. But things have changed this season.

“We’ve had relatively good leadership,” said Maine Coach Ted Woodward. “I think a lot of our guys did a good job in the offseason, got better from one season to another. We’ve added some new pieces. And they’ve all continued with growth and maturity.”

Gerald McLemore, a sophomore guard, leads the team in scoring at 14.9 points per game. McNally averages 10.9 points and 7.3 rebounds. Mitchell, a junior college transfer, is averaging 9.8 points.

Junior Bernal, the team’s lone senior, has scored 8.2 points per game, and freshman Murphy Burnatowski has contributed 6.4 points.

“We really trust one another. That’s where all of our success comes from,” said McLemore.

Maine’s most notable victory this year was a 52-51 win against Boston College on Jan. 2.

The Black Bears opened conference play with a loss to Vermont on Jan. 7, then reeled off six straight wins.

“The last few years we haven’t gotten a lot of recognition, not a lot of respect,” said McNally. “We were fighting for every inch. This year, we’re respected around the league now. Teams are aware they actually have to play the University of Maine, rather than think it’s going to be an easy game.

“And we have a different mind-set. We can win this tournament as long as we work hard, play well, play smart.”

Maine was expected to face Hartford in the quarterfinals until Binghamton, facing potential NCAA infractions, opted out of postseason play.

The Black Bears quickly switched gears to focus on New Hampshire. Maine beat the Wildcats twice in the regular season: 56-42 in Orono and 72-53 in Durham.

“It doesn’t matter. Doesn’t change anything,” said Woodward. “We played well against New Hampshire both times. I think they’re a very explosive basketball team. I think they play very tough defensively. We made some shots against them.”

Mitchell agreed.

“I respect that Binghamton is dropping out. But it doesn’t matter who we play,” he said. “We play hard. We play defense. And we want to be victorious.

“If we don’t do those things, spring break will be upon us real soon.”

 

Staff Writer Jenn Menendez can be contacted at 791-6426 or at:

[email protected]