The University of Maine men’s basketball team catapulted into first place in America East this week with a resounding 72-58 victory at Vermont.

Gerald McLemore reached 1,000 career points and the Black Bears are living up to their preseason billing as the team to beat.

Maine is 5-1 in America East, and 11-7 overall with a 7 p.m. game against Stony Brook today.

“Hopefully we’re still there in February,” said Maine Coach Ted Woodward. “It was a good win. One win. I’m sure our guys are pleased but they’ve been good about taking it game by game.

“They’re a very even-keeled group. And we’ve got a lot of tough battles coming up in the league.”

Maine held off Vermont through several tight runs, a sign, said forward Troy Barnies, of how much confidence players have in one another. He recalled a stretch when his team was up by 14, then three after a Vermont run.

“We managed to keep our composure. We just kept playing,” said Barnies. “We weren’t looking at the time on the clock and sometimes that’s a good thing. If you keep looking up you get nervous. In a game like that I don’t even catch myself looking at the score.”

McLemore agreed.

“We’re very resilient. There’s no quit in us,” said McLemore. “We always keep fighting. Basketball is a game of runs. The runs are going to come and when they do, you can’t get back on your heels and get nervous.”

He said he had no idea he was about to reach 1,000 career points.

“I honestly didn’t even know I was close,” said McLemore. “Didn’t know if I had 400 points or 900. When I finally heard, it was a humbling experience. A real privilege and honor for me.”

Maine is led in scoring by Barnies (13.7 ppg and 7.5 rebounds), McLemore (11.9 points) and Terrence Mitchell (10.2 points).

But everyone, said Woodward, has played a part.

Ten players are averaging more than 10 minutes per game. And only Barnies averages more than 30. He’s playing at a clip of 31.3 minutes per game.

“We’re playing a lot of guys. We’re a deep basketball team and everybody gives us something,” said Woodward. “It’s a great thing to have. It’s a fragile balance of chemistry and there have been guys who have stepped up in a number of games.”

Barnies said his team has come a long way.

“It’s really interesting how this has happened in the last few months,” said Barnies. “Back in August we were all kind of shy. Now everyone is pretty much open. We really look like a team right now.”

Maine went 6-6 through nonconference play, winning at Massachusetts and Penn State.

League play opened two weeks ago and Maine picked off Boston University 65-52, lost to Hartford 61-59 and has gone 4-0 since.

“Everybody in D-1 basketball belongs,” said Woodward.

“You better come ready. You better be prepared, better come at your best. There’s no one on this schedule that we look at as more important than another team.”

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

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