During a season that has hurled trials and tribulations at every athletic program, at any level in America, the University of Maine men’s basketball team has collectively decided to forego the rest of the 2020-21 season due to complications arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Black Bears last played on Jan. 17 against the Vermont Catamounts in Burlington, and hadn’t been able to practice since, due to a lack of healthy bodies. Maine finishes its season with a record of 2-7 through nine contests, equaling the amount of games it had cancelled or postponed due to positive tests over that span. The Black Bears didn’t get to tip off until almost a month into the season on Dec. 19 against Hartford, and they only faced four conference opponents before opting out.
The decision made by Black Bear players and coaches is justifiable, reasonable, and cautious — there’s no arguing that unpaid athletes shouldn’t have to play during a global pandemic if they don’t feel comfortable doing so. Still, it has to sting for a developing program that had shown signs of growth in the early-going.
Maine nearly got by Hartford in its opener despite the Hawks already having played five games, and it topped rival New Hampshire at home before picking up a road win against newly minted America East member NJIT.
After years of roster turnover, the Black Bears came into this season with 10 returning players and two transfers. Program development isn’t just measured by wins and losses; continuity and familiarity are important, and establishing a culture reigns above all. There are still steps to be taken, but Maine has taken a massive leap forward under head coach Richard Barron.
Freshmen guard transfers Adefolalrin Adetogun and LeChaun DuHart provided valuable rotation minutes right away, with the two being tied for the team-high at 1.6 assists per game and DuHart’s 11 points per game leading the team. DuHart’s shooting and court vision allowed the Black Bears to continue building upon their system predicated around pace, spacing and ball movement, finishing in the top-10 in Division I in assist rate (62.8 in 2020-21) for the third season in a row, per BartTorvik.
Within this shortened, difficult season, a leader emerged for the Black Bears: redshirt sophomore big Stephane Ingo. Ingo ranked second in the America East in blocks per game (2.6) with a block percentage of 10.4, and third in the conference in rebounds at 8.6 per contest. The Mississauga, Ontario native grew into a two-way presence for Maine after arriving on campus as a lanky shot-blocker, stretching his game out to the perimeter and hitting three of his 10 attempts from deep on the season, and he’s also gotten better at seeking and playing through contact.
Pandemic basketball was never going to be kind to a team located in Orono, Maine; their closest road trip is nearly four hours away by bus. Consider the risk that players and staff are already taking just by participating, and then heighten that based off of how much they have to travel. That’s no matter, though — Barron leads a group of student-athletes that have faced their share of adversity before, and at the very least, it’s a great sign that the program is on the same page and was able to come to a safe, sound conclusion to their season.