Highlights — Maine men’s basketball shows toughness, finds way to win

For the most part, Bob Walsh’s inaugural season at the Maine men’s basketball helm has been one of losses and moral victories – except Walsh doesn’t believe in moral victories.

Time and time again during their first 23 games – 21 of them losses – the Black Bears had found way to fall apart in the second half. And for much of Saturday afternoon, it looked like it would be more of the same, as Maine found a way to almost completely blow a 13-point halftime lead and 12-point advantage with 8:01 to go.

But unlike most of the year, the Black Bears dug down deep and found a way – thanks in part to a veteran-type big plays from diminutive freshman guard Kevin Little – to hang on and pull out a 67-64 win over visiting Binghamton.

“We knew they were going to try to turn up the level of intensity, they did it at their place and we didn’t respond that well,” said Walsh, whose team led the Bearcats by one at the half, only to get outscored by 20 in the second half the first time the two teams met.

“When things start to go poorly for you in the second half, you’re trying to find a way to dig your way out of it,” said Walsh.

Little scored 21-points, the biggest coming with 41 seconds left and the Bearcats trailing 58-57. Little a kick out off of a baseline drive from junior guard Shaun Lawton at the top of the key and didn’t hesitate for a second, burying a deep three to push the lead back to four.

“Confidence comes from Shaun and everybody else constantly driving and kicking it to me, that they believe in me,” said Little who has scored in double figures in the last six games he has played, including 20 or more points in three of his last four.

“Have you seen this guy play before?” laughed Latwon when asked about Little not hesitating to take the big shot.

For Walsh, never one to search for silver linings, the Black Bears ability to hang on for a win in a similar situation to numerous prior losses was a big step in the right direction for his team.

“It shows, it shows a lot about this group,” said Walsh after the game.

Vermont men’s basketball makes #JoshStrong video for injured recruit Josh Speidel

Vermont men’s basketball players and coaches sent thoughts, prayers and well wishes to seriously injured Catamount commit Josh Speidel in a touching video on Monday evening.

“We just wanted to let you know that we’re been thinking of you, we know that you’ve made great strides already in the first day,” said Vermont assistant coach Kyle Cieplicki in the video. “We’ve all been thinking about you in the program and in the town and in the community.”

“I just wanted to let you know you’re in our thoughts and prayers,” said Vermont head coach John Becker in the video. “You’re in our thoughts and prayers.”

According to multiple articles, Speidel’s family has been overwhelmed by the support they have already received from both their hometown community, as well as that of the Indiana basketball community at large, as well as that of Vermont basketball. Becker was originally set to travel to Indiana to visit the Speidel and his family immediately after the accident, but a snow storm grounded all flights. He is now scheduled to travel Wednesday.

On Twitter, the hasthag #JoshStrong has already started to trend. A GoFundMe campaign has already been started to help Speidel’s family with the medical costs they will be facing. In it’s first day, the campaign raised more than $2,500 for Speidel’s medical expenses. Anyone wishing to help can find out more information here.

Regarded as one of the top high school seniors in the basketball-crazed state of Indiana, Speidel was seriously injured in a car accident on Sunday night, when the Honda driven by the 6-foot-8-inch standout for Columbus North High School, was struck by another vehicle on U.S. 31 near Bear Lane in Taylorsville, about 40 minutes south of Indianapolis.

According to a preliminary investigation, a car driven by 42-year-old Janell Foley had just exited off of Interstate 65 and was traveling southbound when Speidel’s Honda entered the road way and was struck on the driver’s side by an SUV. According to authorities and published reports, first responders had to use the Jaws of Life to cut the Honda’s door and the roof off to remove Speidel from the car.

Speidel was transported by ambulance first to Columbus Regional Hospital, before being transferred to the ICU at IU Health Methodist Hospital, where he was treated for a traumatic head injury. According to reports, doctors performed a procedure to remove pressure from Speidel’s brain.

Speidel arrived at the hospital in critical condition, but according to his family, a hospital spokesperson, and multiple reports, he is now in “critical but stable” condition, and the pressure on his brain has stayed within normal levels following the surgery.

“”His vitals look good, it’s just waiting for his eyes to open and for him to wake up and we’re hoping that’s in the next 24-48 hours. This is a critical time,” said Josh’s father, Dave, in an interview with Indiana news station WTHR.

“The greatest feeling is telling your bro you are there with him & he moves his hand! Now let’s just open those eyes of yours. ‪#joshstrong” Tweeted Speidel’s sister, Micayla, shortly after 11:30 a.m. Monday.

According to Speidel’s mother, Lisa, Speidel, in an interview with The Republic, Speidel is breathing on his own and the pressure on his brain has remained at normal level following surgery. According to the article, Speidel miraculously did not suffer any internal injuries in the accident, which required the Jaws of Life to extract him from his car, but has a skull fracture on his left side and a fractured right jaw.

“The concern is the pressure remaining within a normal level. They have started to take him off the medicine that has been helping him to sleep,” said Lisa Speidel in an interview with The Republic Monday. “He is starting to move on his own, his arms and legs, and he shifted his shoulder on his own.”

Speidel had been averaging 25.6 points and 9.3 rebounds for a 14-3 Columbus North squad, and was widely considered one of the best players in the state of Indiana.

Foley, the driver of the other vehicle, was treated at the scene of the accident and released, her two children, who were passengers in the car, were not injured. An 18-year old passenger in Speidel’s car was taken to a hospital with non-life threatening injuries.

A trip down memory lane: The winning streak that spurred the 2004-2005 Vermont Catamounts

When the final buzzer sounded Saturday afternoon in Bangor, Maine, Albany head coach Will Brown once again found himself in totally uncharted territory: A perfect 9-0 to open America East play, riding a nine game winning streak, both all-time bests in the program’s Division I history.

The Danes’ 9-0 America East record is the best start to conference play that the league has seen in the past nine years. Ten years ago, however, the America East bore witness to an even better one, as the 2004-2005 Vermont Catamounts – one of the greatest teams in conference history — rattled off 13-straight league wins before they finally registered a conference loss.

“That was a great team because everyone knew their roles” said former Vermont point guard T.J. Sorrentine during an earlier.

“We had our golden boys in Taylor [Coppenrath] and T.J. [Sorrentine] and we had great role players like a [Germain] Mopa-Njila and a [David] Hehn who knew exactly what they were supposed to do and embraced it,” remember former Vermont head coach Tom Brennan.

The 2004-2005 Catamounts featured a pair of 2,000-plus point scorers in Coppenrath, an unstoppable 6-foot-9 inch power forward with unworldly footwork, an uncanny ability to constantly beat his man to his spot, an unconscious shooting stroke out to behind the arc, and a preternatural scoring ability, and Sorrentine, a 5’11” ball of swgger, charisma, and fearless scoring abandon – not to mention 3-point range to well beyond the state lines, the Catamounts could put up points in bunches.

One of just two players in America East history to win the conference Player of the Year award three times, Coppenrath finished his career third in conference history in scoring with 2,442 points. The 2002 America East Player of the Year as a sophomore, Sorrentine finished his career 13th in league history in scoring (2,013 points) and second in career- 3-pointers (354).

“It was definitely an unbelievable team,” said Coppenrath in an interview over the summer. “T.J. and I were roommates and teammates for five years, and we just always knew where the other was on the court at all times.”

But according to Brennan, Coppernath and Sorrentine, it was players like Mopa-Njila, a super athletic, lock-down defender and tenacious rebounder as a 6’4” small forward, Hehn, a relentless defender and all-around glue guy as a 6’5” shooting guard, and Martin Klimes, a 6’8” center with a knack for tacking charges and dishing out elbows, who made the team go.

Vermont started out the season with a hard-fought 68-61 loss at perennial power Kansas, with Coppenrath and Jayhawk future NBAer Wayne Simien going shot for shot in the post. The Catamounts then destroyed Maris and Iona, each by 20 or more points, with Sorrentine scoring 31 points in the first victory, and Coppenrath pouring in 32 in the next.

Taylor Coppenrath. Courtesy photo / Vermont Athletics
Taylor Coppenrath. Courtesy photo / Vermont Athletics

After a surprising loss to American, the Catamounts started conference play early, and were off to the races, with Coppenrath pouring in 39 points and ripping down 12 rebounds in a 30-point win over Binghamton and his one-time arch-nemesis, Bearcats 7-footer Nick Billings.

The Catamounts lost their next game to national power North Carolina, but then rattled off 15 straight wins, with victories over non-conference foes Siena, Holy Cross and Dartmouth sprinkled in amidst 12 America East wins. Coppenrath scored 22 or more points 10 times during the 15 game overall winning streak and eight times in the 13-0 start to America East play. Coppenrath cracked 30 points three times during the Catamounts blitzkrieg of the America East, while Sorrentine broke 30 twice.

The Catamounts winning streak finally came to an end on Feb. 12 at Boston University, with Coppenrath scoring 37 points while the Terriers ran a triangle-2 defense with the “two” both covering Coppenrath for all 94 feet of hardwood.

After the loss to Boston University, the Catamounts immediately bounced back, rattling off three more America East wins to clinch the regular season title, with their only loss in that stretch coming against a Nevada squad stacked with future NBA talent as the marquee matchup of the original ESPN Bracket Buster.

With the regular season title wrapped up, Brennan chose to sit Coppenrath and Sorrentine for the final game of the regular season, and the Catamounts fell 87-66 at Maine.

The dynamic duo showed absolutely no rust in the conference tournament held in Binghamton, leading Vermont to a 76-61 quarterfinal win over UMBC, followed by a 76-65 win over the tournament hosts in the semifinals, and an 80-57 destruction over a JJ Barea-led second-seed Northeastern in the Championship Game. Sorrentine was terrific during the Catamounts third-straight America East Tournament championship, scoring a combined 56 points over the three games.

But Coppenrath was otherworldly, putting together arguably the greatest America East Tournament performance in league history, scoring 33, 34 and 37 points, respectively, in the three wins.

The run to the NCAAs, of course, set up a showdown in the NCAA Tournament First Round at the DCU Center in Worcester, Massachusetts, between the 13-seed Catamounts and four-seed Syracuse, a team led by Hakim Warrick and Gerry McNamara that many pundits had picked as a dark horse to win the NCAA Tournament.

The results of that game, of course, continue to reverberate around the college basketball landscape a decade later, with Sorrentine’s 28-foot 3-pointer in overtime propelling the Catamounts to a 60-57 overtime upset.

What many forget was that it was Mopa-Njila who stepped up and carried the Catamounts for most of the game, scoring a career-high 20 points on 9-of-10 shooting, to go with nine rebounds, five assists, four steals, among them several momentum-changing dunks and the go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:55 left and subsequent steal on the other end to set up Sorrentine’s heroics.

Germain Mopa-Njila. Courtesy photo / Vermont Athletics.
Germain Mopa-Njila. Courtesy photo / Vermont Athletics.

Vermont’s season came to an end, valiantly, in the second round, with the Catamounts giving Michigan State everything the Spartans could handle, before falling 72-61. It was truly one of the most remarkable post season runs in America East history, but it began with one of the greatest regular season win streaks the conference has seen.

Only time will tell whether this year’s red-hot Great Danes squad can follow suit.

T.J. Sorrentine scored over 2,000 points during his career at Vermont, including the biggest shot in Catamount history. Photo Credit: Vermont Athletics / Sally McCay
T.J. Sorrentine scored over 2,000 points during his career at Vermont, including the biggest shot in Catamount history. Photo Credit: Vermont Athletics / Sally McCay

Video — Albany wins one for Sue Hooley

For the past two and a half weeks, the games themselves have been easy for Albany men’s basketball – a few hours of reprieve from the real world heartbreak hanging over their heads. It’s the rest of the day – the long bus rides to games, draining practices, and hours of worry – that have been hard.

It’s paled in comparison to what the past two weeks have been like for their teammate and friend, Peter Hooley.

“A lot’s been going on the last two weeks with our team,” said Albany head coach Will Brown following the Great Danes 77-59 win at Maine on Saturday afternoon, a victory that pushed Albany to 9-0 in the America East standings, marking both the program’s best start to conference play and longest winning streak in its Division I history.

“Hopefully the trip back [to Albany] is a little easier than the trip up was,” said Brown, usually a uncontrollable bundle of energy, one-liners, quick-quips and jokes, speaking in an uncharacteristically demure tone.

Brown was speaking about Hooley, his family, and his mother, Sue, who passed away on Friday after a long battle with colon cancer.

“The Sue Hooley-Peter Hooley situation has been tough on our team,” said Brown.

Sue Hooley was diagnosed with colon cancer four and a half years ago, and had battled the disease ever since. Up until two weeks ago, Hooley had remained in Albany while Sue battled cancer, fighting for the Great Danes on the hardwood at the insistence of his mother leading Albany to back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances in 2013 and 2014.

But on Jan. 17, Hooley received word that his mother’s condition had taken a turn for the worse, and for the first time in his four-years at Albany, the red-shirt junior left his team, flying back to his home in Adelaide, Australia, to be with his mother during what would prove to be her final weeks.

Ever since then, Albany has played truly inspired basketball, running through an America East gauntlet by knocking off second-place Vermont, third-place Stony Brook and then-fourth (now fifth) place Hartford, all on the road. All the while, they have been playing with Hooley and his mother on their mind.

“How could we possibly complain about anything given what they’re going through,” said Albany senior forward Sam Rowley, Hooley’s countryman and fellow co-captain. “Basketball is such a big part of that family. Some guys on our team, the new guys who have only been here for a few months, but they’re considered family by Jeff (Hooley, Peter Hooley’s father.”

“I will say this, five wins in a row without Hooley, most of those games on the road, yeah, I’d think I’d be a fool – I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t think we were surprised to be 9-0,” said Brown of his team’s winning streak.

But on Friday, the latest long, heavy-hearted bus ride, Brown got the worst call of his coaching career, informing him that Sue Hooley had passed away. He waited until the team reached their hotel in Bangor to inform his players.

According to several of them, they took it hard, but vowed to play their game in honor of Sue and her family.

“We’re a little insulated from it here, so what we’re going through is just nothing compared to it. And we just feel for him,” said Rowley of Hooley.

“I think we did what Sue Hooley wanted us to do today, which was to come out,” said Brown, whose team shot a scintillating 68-percent in the second half, and got 21-points apiece from point guard Evan Singletary and freshman shooting guard Wheeler Baker.

“I’m sure she (Sue) watched from up above and wanted us to come out and get a win, because basketball is so important to that family,” said Brown.

With a 9-0 record in league play, a full two game lead over second-place Vermont, and five of their final seven conference games at home, the Great Danes sit squarely in the driver’s seat for the America East regular season title and home court advantage throughout the conference playoffs. But according to head coach Will Brown, the key for the team remains staying grounded.

“I think the minute we start feeling good about ourselves, or start to think we’re a little better than what we are, we’re going to get beat,” said Brown.

Hooley is expected to rejoin the team at some point before the season is over, although there is no timetable for his immediate return.

“We really look forward to having him back,” said Rowley.

Video — Maine men’s basketball falls to Albany 77-59

Another game, and another tough, hard-fought loss for Maine men’s basketball head coach Bob Walsh and his Black Bears, who fell 77-59 to first place Albany on Saturday, dropping to 2-20 on the season and 1-8 in conference play.

For Walsh, it was the same story as most of the previous losses: An inability to play consistent defense for 40 minutes.

“When they shoot 68 percent there aren’t many rebounds where your team is in good position to get them,” said Walsh of Albany’s second-half shooting performance, which turned a 44-44 tie with 11:39 remaining into an Albany romp. “The game switched when they started throwing in 3-points on every possession.”

Maine was led by freshman point guard Aaron Calixte, who scored 15-points on 6-of-8 shooting, to go with seven assists and three rebounds in 31 minute of action. Three other Black Bears broke double figures, with senior Zarko Valjarevic scoring 11 points, and juniors Till Gloger and Shaun Lawton adding 10 points apiece. Gloger, a 6’8” center, added eight rebounds and Lawton, a 6’5” junior point guard-turned forward added five assists.

“We actually attacked their zone pretty well. We got it inside, we got good looks, we shot 54 percent in the second half, we made five 3’s. I’m not sure how we’re going to do much better offensively,” said Walsh, who was satisfied with the Black Bears offense, which shot 48.9 percent from the floor (23-of-47) and 42.9 percent from behind the arc (9-of-21).

It was the defense, once again, that proved to be Maine’s downfall, allowing the Great Danes to shoot 55.4 percent from the floor (31-of-56) and an even 50 percent from downtown (10-of-20).

“They were throwing three on the board every time down, it’s hard to keep up with that,” said Walsh. “We shot 49 percent for the game, we made nine 3’s, we had 18 assists on 23 baskets, we had more assists than turnovers.

“You can win with that, no doubt, but you can’t sustain success if that’s all you’re counting on, and right now, that’s all we’re counting on.”

The Black Bears continued to be hampered – arguably haunted – by a sheer lack of serviceable bodies, as sophomore forward Marko Pirovic – a starter at the beginning of the season – missed his eighth game in a row, and 13th out of the last 14, with a foot injury and appears headed for a red-shirt season. The Black Bears were also without the services of starting forward Garret Beal, who has missed time with an assortment of injuries, among them post concussion issues, and explosive freshman shooting guard Kevin Little, who had to attend a family situation, according to Walsh.

The sheer lack of bodies forced Walsh to play just eight players, with five – Valjarevic, Gloger, Lawton, Calixted and Troy Reid-Knight – logging 31 or more minutes.

“It’s a challenge, but when you just tell them, ‘don’t foul, you’re not coming out,’ and ‘don’t look at me if you get tired,’ it’s kind of not that much of a challenge,” said Walsh of players being forced to spend extended time on the court. “At one point I said, ‘Aaron, are you ok?’ he had two fouls in the first half, he looked tired, he was working hard, and he said, ‘yes,’ and I said, ‘good, because you’re not coming out.’”

Walsh has already carved out a reputation as a coach who absolutely abhors making excuses for poor play, but even he had to admit that having such a short bench has hindered his team.

“I think playing 39 minutes, 33 minutes, 34 minutes – asking guys to do that at the level we want to compete at is hard.”

However, Walsh was steadfast in refusing to shift the focus for the team’s ongoing struggles, saying, “It’s just the 40 minutes. It’s the 40 minutes – being able to do it for 40 minutes. If you compete and play tough and defend for 40 minutes, you’ll have a chance to win every night, and we’re not there.”

New Hampshire men’s basketball highlights versus Maine

The last time New Hampshire men’s basketball finished the season in sole possession of fourth-place, Austin Ganly and his “rec specs’” were still rocking the rims of Ludholm Gymnasium. The last time UNH finished with a record above .500 overall – let alone a winning record in the America East – was back in the Matt Alosa days of the mid 1990s.

With a hard-fought 63-58 win over archrival University of Maine on a freezing afternoon in Orono, the Wildcats took a big step towards ending both droughts, moving to 12-9 overall, 5-3 in conference play and a full game above the University of Hartford in fourth place in the league standings.

The story for the Wildcats, once again, was the terrific play of freshman forward Tanner Leissner, whose second career double-double (11 points, 12 rebounds) led the Wildcats to the win.

“I think we finally got the ball to him in some spots, and he just made plays,” said UNH head coach Bill Herrion after the game.

Sophomore guard Jaleen Smith continued his energetic and inspired play as of late, swiping four steals and causing havoc on defense, while pasing the team with 14 points on offense, while senior gunner Matt Miller added 10 points and seven rebounds.

The Wildcats bulldozed the Black Bears on the boards 47-34, and held Maine to 33.3 percent from the floor and 27.8 percent from downtown in the win.

Maine men’s basketball highlights versus New Hampshire

It was another loss for Maine men’s basketball on Wednesday night – the 19th of the season compared to just two wins – but for the second game in a row it was big step in the right direction after so many steps backwards.

“You’ve got to give Maine credit defensively with their game plan,” said University of New Hampshire head coach Bill Herrion after his team escaped Maine with a 63-58 win. “They did a great job extending the game.”

For most of the season, the Black Bears have struggled to put together a full 40 minutes of consistent effort and commitment to defense, typically fading fast in the second half.

But hot on the heels of a shocking 70-61 win over what had been a hot Hartford squad that had begun the night in fourth place on Sunday, the Black Bears once again got after it against fourth-place New Hampshire.

An 11-0 New Hampshire run pushed the Wildcats’ lead to 44-34 with 8:04 left – a lead that just weeks ago would have had the Black Bears already headed for the locker room showers – but Maine responded by attacking on both ends of the court, cutting the lead to 58-56 with 23 seconds to go before the Wildcats were able to hang on.

“They went under a lot of the ball-screen stuff that we run. They took our driving lanes away. They fronted the post. It was very hard for us to get it inside to [Tanner] Leissner and [Jacoby] Armstrong,” said Herrion. Arguably the league’s top defensive coach, Herrion added: “They defended us like we haven’t really been defended.”

The story of the night for Maine was the ongoing inspired play of freshman shooting guard Kevin Little, who followed up a career-high 25 points against Hartford with 22 points against the Wildcats. After playing sporadically throughout the season due to injuries, including missing seven of the teams first 16 games, Little has now scored in double figures in four straight contests.

In addition to Little, junior guard Shaun Lawton shined, scoring 12 points to go with six rebounds, three steals and two assists, while spearheading the Black Bears defensive attack.

Albany men’s basketball moves to 8-0 in America East on Singletary’s shot

 

Someone should probably check on what Albany men’s basketball head coach Will Brown has been feeding his players before games.

Maybe this is just destiny.

Either way, it’s been pretty unbelievable to watch.

The game clock descended rapidly towards zero, and the score stood tied at 44, when Evan Singletary crossed over, left-to-right, on the America East logo behind the left wing at Patrick Gymnasium. Two more dribbles and a jab step later, and Singletary let fly over Vermont point guard Trae Bell-Haynes outstretched right arm.

Singletary’s shot exploded through the bottom of the net with 1.5 seconds remaining in the game, sending Albany’s bench into celebration – albeit a slightly demure one considering the circumstances.

Apparently they’ve gotten used to winning in wild fashion.

Singletary’s long-bomb sent the Great Danes to a 47-44 win in the most hostile road environment in the America East, pushing Albany to 8-0 in conference play, a full two games up over Vermont and Stony Brook and squarely in the America East driver’s seat.

The Great Danes, who have won the past two America East championship games on the road as four-seeds, have now won eight-straight games and 11 of their last 12. Even more remarkably, they’ve won their past four games, including road wins over Stony Brook, Hartford and Vermont – the heart of the America East – without star guard Peter Hooley – arguably the team’s best player – who has returned home to his native Australia to help care for his mother who is battling colon cancer.

And yet the Great Danes have only played better in Hooley’s absence.

Sometimes there are simply no logical explanations for what happens on the basketball court, and right now seems to be one of them: Right now it’s Albany’s world and we’re all just living in it.

As for what Brown is feeding his team before games: “Raw meat, a few nails each day, and Hulk Hogan vitamins!” tweeted the Great Danes head coach after the game.

Video: Aki Thomas and UMBC get much-needed win — and it feels good

UMBC needed this one. They needed it bad. And when it was over, boy did it feel good.

“Obviously to get a road win is really, really significant,” said UMBC head coach Aki Thomas, after his team’s 76-59 win at Maine, which snapped a seven-game losing streak while also giving the Retrievers their first conference win.

It’s been a long, hard season for Thomas and his massively undermanned crew. Entering the season, on paper, UMBC looked primed to take a big step in the right direction with a solid freshman class, transfer center Cody Joyce being declared eligible immediately right away by the NCAA, and a star in the making in sophomore Rodney Elliot.

That lasted all of 20 minutes, when Elliot went down with what would later be diagnosed as a torn labrum in the season-opener at Akron and was lost for the season. UMBC would subsequently lose what felt like a brigade of able bodies to injuries and suspensions, and Thomas would find himself with just seven bodies in uniform, six on scholarship – a situation so dire that he added another walk-on halfway through the year.

Somehow, even as the losses mounted (UMBC began the night 2-16 on the year), Thomas and his team found ways to keep fighting, coming heartbreakingly close to wins against UMass Lowell (73-61 loss in OT), New Hampshire (63-60), Stony Brook (64-54 in a game the Retrievers led until the five-minute mark) and Hartford (65-63).

On Thursday night, Thomas’ beleaguered troops finally put it all together, led by a monster 28-point, eight rebound, two steal, two assist performance from Joyce, who shot 11-of-16 from the floor – including a two-handed slam plus the foul – and 6-of-7 from the line.

“Cody Joyce had a big night,” said Thomas. “Did I envision a 28-point game? No, but I thought he could have a big game and really help us win, but I didn’t think 28, I thought 16-18,” Thomas smiled.

The Retrievers shot 52.9 percent from the floor on the night (27-of-51) including an insane 80 percent from the floor in the second half (16-of-20), but Thomas pointed to their defensive efforts, holding Maine to 35.7 percent from the floor and 30.4 percent from behind the arc, as the key.

“Last year Zarko [Valjarevic] really got off to a good start and we didn’t want that to happen this year. With his ability to hit three’s with limited space,” said Thomas. “We really tried to key in on him every time he had the ball, tried to make him put it on the floor, crowd him, and not let him get into a rhythm.”

The game was also a small manner of vindication for Thomas and his team. Last season, the Retrievers fell behind big in the second half, only to come roaring all the way back, only to lose in the final minutes.

“Last time when we were up here, we talked about a very hard-fought game where we were down a bunch, came back, and came up short,” said Thomas. “We don’t want that to happen this year. We wanted to do everything in our power to stay around, hang around in the game. We ended up coming out in the second half pretty well and we were able to put them away pretty good.”

Thomas also singled out graduate transfer Wayne Sparrow as being an especially big part of UMBC’s program despite an off night from the floor (2-of-11). Sparrow dished out nine assists, pulled down five rebounds, swiped four steals and added two blocks.

“He’s been huge on the floor,” said Thomas. “Off the court, he’s been a mentor to all these guys, even the older – even a guy like Cody [Joyce] but especially the younger guys…. He’s been mentoring these guys, and really kind of showing them the ropes and talking them about how hard you need to play and how you play in certain situations.”

According to Thomas, whose team moved to 1-5 in league play, as nice as the win felt, the team wouldn’t have much time to savor it.

“It’s back to Baltimore,” he said, alluding to a Sunday showdown with a first place Albany squad that sits at 6-0 in America East play.

Video — Maine head coach Bob Walsh: ‘It’s hard to describe how much it hurts.’

Maine head coach Bob Walsh sat down, removed his dark suit jacked, and bared his soul to the small contingent of media sitting in the press conference room at the Cross Center.

“It’s hard to describe how much it hurts, how bad it feels, or what it looks like, quite honestly,” said Walsh, with strong streaks of emotion in his voice before he calmed himself. “It’s hard to describe, it’s unacceptable. The university of Maine, the leadership, the coaches, the students, the supporters, the alums… there’s so much pride in the university of Maine and our team is not coming close to living up to that standard.”

Walsh was speaking after his Black Bears had fallen at home 76-59 to a UMBC squad that entered the game 0-5 in league play, 2-16 on the season, and with just six healthy scholarship players and two walk-ons in uniform.

It was Maine’s 13th straight loss of the season, dropping the Black Bears to 1-18 on the year, and a game that Maine once again could not string together a consistent 40 minutes of fight, or stop a nose bleed on the defensive end.

“I will say this: I have never been where I was at halftime [emotionally],” said Walsh. “Right now, look, I’ve been lucky enough to coach ever since I got out of school. You deal with all sorts of stuff – ups and downs – you learn to handle it, but at halftime of this game, I don’t think I’ve ever been so disappointment in myself or any team that I’ve been a part of.”

And once again, it was a game that Walsh, a first year head coach who inherited a skeleton crew roster of cast-offs and misfits and a program that hasn’t known how to win in nearly a decade, took the brunt of the blame for his team’s performance.

“I’m just thoroughly disappointed in myself,” said Walsh, whose team allowed the visiting Retrievers to shoot 52.9 percent from the floor (27-of-51), including an unheard of 80-percent (16-of-20) in the second half.

“There’s a feeling that if we don’t learn to compete at a high level, consistently, everyday, and we don’t show the fight, toughness, heart, all those intangibles – whatever your favorite word to describe it – that we won’t beat anybody,” said Walsh following the game.

According to Walsh, the problem does not lie with his players, but the coaching staff’s ability to convey their game plan and goals to the group.

“It looked like the opposite of everything that we try and stress to these kids everyday,” he said. “We’ve got really good kids, I’ve got to get the message across, it’s clear I’m not doin that. Leadership isn’t about the message you give, it’s about the message you receive.

“I don’t know what it is…. We talk about it, we try different approaches, we do different things every day to try to get the most out of them and I’m not getting the message across.”

According to Walsh, neither the coaches nor the team are giving up on the season and beginning to look towards next year.

“We won’t stop fighting – I know that. I’ve told our kids from Day 1, it may be hard, it may get difficult, but we will never give up,” said Walsh, who remained in his seat in the media room long after the press conference had come to an end and the reporters had left to file their stories.