BANGOR — Perhaps the pre-game ceremony Sunday summed up this University of Maine men’s basketball season. The seniors were being recognized before the Black Bears’ final home game.

Of the four seniors, one was in uniform. Two were injured, and the fourth was not invited – one of five players recently suspended from the team.

A season that was already demanding keeps finding new struggles.

With injuries and suspensions, Maine dressed only eight players Sunday. The undermanned Black Bears were overwhelmed by the University of Albany 74-56, before an estimated crowd of 350 at the Cross Insurance Center.

The game was never in doubt as Albany jumped ahead 21-3. The Black Bears, starting three freshmen, tried to keep up, while keeping their stamina.

“It was extremely tough,” said junior guard Howard Austin, who led Maine with 12 points. “Albany plays physical and they wore us down.”

Maine (6-24, 2-13 in America East) has only one game remaining – next Saturday at Binghamton – before the conference tournament.

The Black Bears are 2-18 in their last 20 games. Suffice to say, it has been a trying year.

“I like a challenge,” Maine Coach Bob Walsh said.

He’s got one.

The suspensions, which were handed down Feb. 14, are the latest obstacles. Walsh said the players are suspended indefinitely, giving no indication that they will be back.

According to a university press release, the five players were suspended from the team, “based on alleged violations of the student-athlete code of conduct … the university is conducting appropriate investigations.”

The five players are Wes Myers, Marko Pirovic, Jaquan McKennon, Dusan Majstorovic and Ilija Stojilkovic.

Majstorovic is a redshirt sophomore, sitting out this year after transferring from LaSalle. The other four are regulars, with Meyers, a junior, the team’s leading scorer (16.9 points a game). Pirovic was the senior missing from the pre-game ceremony.

Two other seniors – Troy Reid-Knight (ankle) and Garet Beal (foot) – never played a game this year because of injuries. Two other players Aaron Calixte (foot) and Ilker Er (knee) – both starters – suffered season-ending injuries early.

During the game, Maine’s bench had seven players – three subs in uniform and the four injured athletes in their civilian clothing.

The suspensions and injuries follow an offseason when five players transferred out of Maine.

“We’ve had significant personnel issues in the last year,” Walsh said. “We lost guys in the spring. We did a good job recruiting to replace them.

“Then you lose four significant players to season-ending injuries. Our roster was not able to hold up to that, unfortunately.”

Sunday’s game was a mismatch from the opening tip.

“I feel for Bob,” Albany Coach Will Brown said. “You’re handcuffed when you have injuries and suspensions. Not much you can do about it.”

Albany (18-11, 9-5) took a 39-14 halftime lead, as the Black Bears shot 16 percent (3-for-19).

Walsh challenged the players’ pride in the locker room and Howard said they responded. The Black Bears then out-scored Albany 42-35.

“We came out in the second half with a better mentality and started to be a little motivated,” Howard said.

The same could not be said of the Great Danes.

“It’s hard with young kids,” Brown said. “Their minds are wandering. It’s not a great atmosphere. They’re up big. They go on cruise control. I’m disappointed, but I get it.

“Give Maine credit. Their kids played extremely hard, regardless of what the score was.”

Vincent Eze, a 6-foot-8 freshman center, recorded 10 points and 13 rebounds for Maine. Freshman guard Dennis Ashley scored 10 points off the bench. Andrew Fleming, the 6-7 freshman from Oxford Hills High, had seven points and five rebounds.

Maine relied on six players for most of the minutes. Garvey Melmed a walk-on junior guard from Old Town High, played seven minutes and scored three points. The one senior, walk-on guard C.J. Ward, entered with 4:55 left and hit a 3-pointer.

Albany guard David Nichols led everyone with 20 points.

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: @KevinThomasPPH

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