Following a few tough years for the Maine Black Bears men’s basketball team, they came into the 2017-2018 season looking to build upon the foundation that they had been forming with all of the young players on the team. The Black Bears finished with a record of 6-26 (3-13 in America East play), only a slight drop-off from their record of 7-25 last season. Obviously, every team looks to win more games than the last season, but there were still positives that came out of this year.
The season began with two wins against local schools, Husson University and St. Joseph’s College of Maine. The Black Bears then participated in the 2017 Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament, where they dropped all four games but got some valuable experience playing against teams like Texas Tech, who made the Elite Eight in this year’s NCAA Tournament. Playing such high-level competition is crucial during the formative years of the rebuild because it gives the players something to build off of in the coming seasons.
The Black Bears collected their first win against a Division 1 team at Quinnipiac in late November. They then traveled to Washington D.C. to take on an undefeated Georgetown squad, one of the most renowned college basketball programs in the nation. Despite not coming out the victor, they did keep it close for the high majority of the game, and it was another valuable experience for the team, getting to play against a nationally-recognized program in a raucous atmosphere.
The Black Bears moved on and played two games against University of Maine satellite campuses, Presque Isle and Machias. Both of these games were blowout victories for the Black Bears, which served as a great mid-season confidence boost for the team. It always helps to execute properly and pull out a victory, even when you’re supposed to beat the other team. The Black Bears then dropped a few games afterwards, but got their mojo back against Binghamton, which ended up in a win. This was perhaps one of the best games of the season, with the Black Bears coming through in the clutch at the end of the game.
The Black Bears faced a harsh conference schedule in the middle of the season, with consecutive games against Maryland-Baltimore County, Albany, Vermont and Hartford, which were the top four teams in the America East conference this season. However, the Black Bears ended this tough stretch with a thrilling 69-68 victory over New Hampshire, where redshirt third-year guard Aaron Calixte hit some clutch buckets to put them over the top.
Unfortunately, the Black Bears would only collect one more victory over the rest of the season, it being over Binghamton. The Black Bears did manage to play in many close games, though, being down by three to Vermont at halftime in both of the games against them, and only losing to Hartford by four points. A win would have been nice, but you have to be pleased with the progress and growth that was exhibited at the end of the year, which ended with a 75-60 loss to Vermont in the America East Tournament.
There will be some turnover for the Black Bears next season. Bob Walsh, head coach for the last four seasons, has decided not to seek a contract extension with the program. In his tenure, the Black Bears went 24-100, never achieving a winning record, but always progressing towards that goal. Coach Walsh is well-respected in coaching circles for his ability to turn programs around, and he has laid a solid foundation for incoming Head Coach Richard Barron. Barron is the former head coach of the Maine women’s basketball team and is partly responsible for their success in the past two seasons, despite stepping down for medical reasons in January 2017.
On March 6, Calixte announced he would be transferring from Maine for his final year of college eligibility. Calixte was a third-team All-America East player this season, and the bona fide leader of the Black Bears. Calixte referred to the coaching change and the lack of ability to compete for a spot in the NCAA Tournament as reasons for his transfer.
The statistical leaders for the Black Bears this year were: Calixte, who was the team leader in points, assists, and three-point percentage; second-year forward Andrew Fleming, who was top-three in points per game while leading the team in rebounds and redshirt second-year guard Isaiah White, who was a top-three player in points, rebounds and three-point percentage.
The Black Bears look to come back strong next year with a new coach, a new leader and many familiar faces that are hungry to win.