Super Bowl hangovers can be the worst, and I’m not talking about alcohol

The disconnect between the Maine men’s basketball team and the state’s basketball fans is not good. Drove up the interstate Monday night to watch Maine play Vermont, runner-up to Stony Brook in America East.

Decided to play the spectator and left the laptop at home. Walked into Memorial Gym, turned the corner up the stairs to The Pit’s balcony and asked the ticket taker there if I’d have trouble finding an empty seat.

Silly me. I could have walked in behind a couple of busloads of fans and still had my pick.

I get it that Maine has played erratically this season. And that Monday night is the perfect time to get a table at popular restaurants or a choice seat at the hot movie. Monday night is the time to chill after a hectic weekend, and especially after a Super Bowl weekend with the Patriots playing.

But this was Vermont, the school that upset Big East champion Syracuse in the first round of the NCAA playoffs seven years ago. The basketball rival that serves as a measuring stick more times that not. A good team this season that Maine could upset.

Yes, Maine was missing the injured Alasdair Fraser and his 6-foot-7 presence. So the game was over before it began? Utter lack of faith in the bench or the head coach?

Maine lost seven of its last eight games last winter, falling out of contention for the conference regular-season championship.

Hope of finally making the NCAA tournament for the first time by winning the conference tournament evaporated.

This season Maine added freshman guard Justin Edwards, among others. A natural athlete with nice hands and movement. An oh-my-gosh-did-you-see-that player. The kid that’s worth the price of a ticket and a hot dog.

With senior guard Gerald McLemore, and big men Fraser and Mike Allison, Coach Ted Woodward has the tools to win games.

But Maine doesn’t. Not consistently enough to erase the memory of last season’s collapse. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Still, this is the state’s basketball team.

Without Fraser, Maine pulled within 45-41 with 12 minutes remaining and then within 61-55 with 3:11 left. Cheers and yells in The Pit bounce, making hundreds sound like thousands. The place had enough energy to make you forget the empty seats.

Then Edwards had the ball poked away on successive possessions by Sandro Carissimo. Both turnovers led to Vermont fast-break baskets. Suddenly the Vermont lead was back up to 10 and fans slipped arms into winter jackets. We’re outta here.

Vermont won, 73-63. Woodward got a contract extension recently but Maine fans continue to vote with their feet by not walking into Alfond Arena or The Pit to watch. Show us you’re worth our time.

The official statistics listed a crowd of 1,137 for Monday’s game. Umm, yeah, OK. Townies outnumbered the college students.

I wanted to sit with Ed Flaherty Sr. at a baseball game. Talk about the plays and players, listen to his stories. For much of his life, he had watched his son, Ed Jr., play and later coach. He watched grandsons Ryan and Regan play the game. He was 87 or 88 when I first asked Ed Flaherty Jr., the longtime USM baseball coach, if his father wouldn’t mind.

“My father’s kind of shy that way,” said Ed Jr. “He doesn’t feel it should be about him.”

When USM returned to Portland after winning its first NCAA Division III baseball title, Ed Sr. happened to be the first off the plane, about to walk into a cluster of waiting television cameras. He did a smart about-face and returned to the sanctuary of the plane’s cabin, said his son. He was among the last to get off.

Edward Flaherty Sr. passed away last week at 89. Certainly he leaves a void in one of Maine’s fine baseball families. My regret is I never sat next to him and simply started talking baseball. The stories I would have heard.

Heartened to see that Wes Welker won’t be the Bill Buckner of this century.

Welker, of course, dropped a Tom Brady pass at the worst time Sunday and Buckner had a grounder skip under his first baseman’s mitt in the 1986 World Series. Buckner was villified for years until Red Sox fans experienced the joy of winning in 2004.

Even if we don’t earn the big money, there’s a little bit of Welker – and Buckner – in all of us.

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: [email protected]

Twitter: SteveSolloway

 


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