Sean McNally’s audience was thrilled by the presence of the big man from the University of Maine basketball team. They listened intently when he spoke and waited for their turn to ask questions.

But instead of quizzing McNally on the Maine men’s chances of reaching the NCAA basketball tournament for the first time in the university’s history, they wondered how a man could grow to 6 feet, 7 inches tall. And how big are those huge hands? Really.

Hey, the 5-year-olds and 9-year-olds who were McNally’s audience at an Orono elementary school don’t sweat the small stuff like win streaks and conference championships and tournament bids and seeding. That’s left to the rest of us.

Maine has a seven-game win streak and the top spot in America East after Saturday night’s thrilling 77-74 comeback at Binghamton. The streak began after a 61-59 loss to Hartford back on Jan. 5. Since then, Maine has won by 14, 11, 14, 16, and 15 points. Throw in a two-point win Albany several weeks ago. Throw in this one.

Coach Ted Woodward has depth on his bench, which means he has interchangeable parts he doesn’t mind throwing onto the court. He has workers rather than stylists. They take care of the business of preparation in practice and the business of winning on game day. Fun team to cheer for.

So much fun, I mistakenly asked Woodward before Maine left for New York if he found any joy in the current success. “I don’t know if joy is a great word to use,” he said. “I always enjoy winning. We’re always on a mission (to win more.)”

He’s in his seventh season as Maine’s head coach. He knows the disappointment of losing seasons.

If he listened to the criticism outside Orono, he heard that he was a nice guy but not a very good basketball coach, and not the coach to take Maine to basketball’s promised land, otherwise known as the NCAA men’s tournament.

March Madness in Maine? Try March Sadness.

One of the definitions of joy is great pleasure so no, college basketball coaches cannot find joy unless they win in March and win again. They pull out the greatest cliche of them all and tell their players to take the season one game at a time. Enjoy the one victory and move quickly on to the next.

Except Woodward does look ahead to March and temper his joy. It’s the strange predicament most coaches find. All the victories during the season carry little reward when one defeat derails the express. Talk to Bill Belichick.

Maine had a six-game win streak last January capped by a clutch 56-54 win over a good Boston University team. Then it lost two straight to Maryland-Baltimore County and Vermont.

Maine finished third in the conference but lost to lower-seeded New Hampshire in the quarterfinals in the America East tournament. Maine had just finished saying hello and then was gone.

No wonder there’s no joy to a win streak. And no capacity crowds when Maine plays at home.

History has been such a cruel teacher and championship success such a stranger, Mainers have either forgotten how to celebrate or are too afraid of disappointment. The next loss, whenever it may come, shouldn’t stop the cheering. Not for this team.

Think of it as risk-reward.

Woodward had to cut short the conversation Thursday. He was due in Memorial Gym to shoot fouls for Shots For the Heart, an endeavor in its first year calling attention to heart disease. Sixty-four Division I coaches signed up in tribute to Skip Prosser, the Wake Forest coach who died in 2007. Woodward added his name to the list.

Coaches take 25 foul shots on their campus. Woodward beat Mike Young of Wofford in the first round and Buzz Williams of Marquette in the second. Woodward needed to hit nine straight shots in a tiebreaker in that one.

Thursday he was paired against Pitt’s Jamie Dixon, whose sister, Maggie Dixon was women’s coach at West Point. She died of an enlarged heart in 2006 at age 28.

Great cause. Nice rallying moment for a team to watch their coach under pressure. No, said Woodward, he doubted any of his players would be there. They would be in class.

C’mon, Ted. The bandwagon is idling and you’re on it, somewhere. Your team was down 22 points with seven minutes to play in the first half Saturday night on the road.

It’s OK to wave your hand.

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

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