The 2022-23 University of Maine men’s basketball team has just finished their campaign with a first-round exit to UMass Lowell. With a score of 85-54, they’re out of the America East conference tournament. Although it is an unfortunate way to end the season, heads should be high among the Black Bear faithful about this season and the direction of the program. Maine had their most regular season and conference wins in a season since the 2010-11 season with a record of 13-17 (7-9 in conference). The team also brought the spirit of the community back towards the men’s basketball program. The attendance numbers are the highest they have been in a number of years and the greater Orono area is thrilled with the progress of their Black Bears on the hardwood.
Many were unsure how the team would fare this season as they brought in former alum Chris Markwood to be their head coach, a title he had never held before. He played for the Black Bears from 2003 to 2005 after spending his first couple of seasons as a player at the University of Notre Dame. Immediately after graduating he started as an assistant coach at his alma mater from 2006 to 2011. He then moved to be an assistant at the University of Vermont from 2011 to 2014, Northeastern University from 2014 to 2021 and spent the 2021-22 season at Boston College before coming back to UMaine and replacing Richard Barron as the head coach.
The season kicked off with a slate of non-conference games. The season opener was a loss to the University of Nebraska, but Maine was able to keep it close by only losing by 13. A school in the Big Ten should blow out an American East school, so keeping the game within reach until the final minutes was a very promising sign. After a dismantling of Division III UMaine Fort Kent, Maine shocked everybody when they came away with a 69-65 score against Boston College. This came as the first win against a Power Five conference school since 2010. This spurred a win streak over Columbia University and Central Connecticut State University. Following this were three consecutive close losses decided by a total of 13 points to Brown, Fordham and Marist. After that the Black Bears blew out UMaine Augusta and eked out a win versus Merrimack College.
During the Christmas break the team traveled to Ohio for a tournament. Unfortunately, they were outclassed by the University of Akron and Ohio State. After returning home they finished the non-conference portion of their schedule with a one-point loss to Harvard. UMaine was already on a three-game skid and went on to lose their first five America East games to UMass Lowell, New Jersey Institute of Technology, the University of New Hampshire, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and Vermont. With their backs against the wall, the Black Bears went on to win four of five games while defeating Binghamton University, UMass Lowell, University of Albany and UMBC with a loss to Bryant University sandwiched in the middle. This was a turning point for the team as they figured out that they could hang with just about everyone in the conference, but they also found their identity as a team that plays outstanding perimeter defense, a good high-tempo pace and a good shooting and finishing offense, despite being a bit undersized.
The rest of the way, the team lost two consecutive games to Vermont and NJIT. Following that, they beat Albany, lost to rival UNH and beat Binghamton. The last game of the season was the happiest and most famous part of the season. On their senior night, Maine played Bryant and won on a buzzer-beater tip-in. The play went on to make ESPN’s SportsCenter and has gotten Maine basketball the most attention that it has had in a long time. This locked them into the No. 7 seed in the conference tournament which placed them against UMass Lowell where they went on to lose by 31 points. Maine is only losing three seniors to graduation: Gedi Juozapaitis, Ata Turgut, and Fofo Adetogun. It is a very young team with a promising future, and with a good recruiting class there is no reason why Maine should not be able to take the next step and climb the ranks of the America East conference. One of the bright spots is guard Kellen Tynes who led the nation in steals with a staggering 3.27 per game. He was named conference Defensive Player of the Year, as well as third-team All–Conference. Juozapaitis joined him on the All-Conference team and these stand as the individual awards that UMaine players received.