AUBURN — Central Maine Community College coach Dave Gonyea doesn’t think the USCAA Division II national tournament will come down to five-on-five as much as a combination of 12-on-12 and three-in-three.

“It’s a Thursday, Friday, Saturday schedule,” Gonyea said. “The way we play, the amount of guys we use, I think it benefits us to play three games in three days.”

“Some of those teams have got two or three very, very good players,” he continued. “And five-on-five, there are teams probably as good as we are, if not better. But 12-on-12, I don’t think there’s anybody in the tournament as good as we are.”

With a 30-2 record and Yankee Small College Conference title under their belts, Gonyea and the Mustangs have good reason to be confident heading into Thursday’s 5:30 p.m. quarterfinal against No. 8 Penn State-Beaver, which won its prelim game against No. 9 Berekley (N.Y.) College, 76-68, on Wednesday.

The Mustangs are the tournament’s top seed, although Gonyea takes the rankings with a grain of salt.

“I think the seeds are sometimes deceiving because of the different levels of basketball throughout the country,” Gonyea said.

CMCC has been on-site in Uniontown, Pa., since Sunday preparing for what Gonyea is hoping is a grueling tournament. The Mustangs went unbeaten in their conference with a deep roster that he dips deep into, sending wave upon wave onto the court in hopes of ultimately wearing down opponents.

“In my 20 years, I’ve never had a team like this, that plays so well together, that battles for each other,” Gonyea said.

He calls the roster, which includes five players from Maine, a perfect storm in terms of defining roles, having the players who can play those roles and play them willingly, and having all of the personalities jell.

“What we’ve been able to do is 14 really athletic kids who understand their role, who can do a variety of things, and allow us to do this full-court pressure thing that we’re doing, the run-and-jump, for 40 minutes a game,” Gonyea said.

Gonyea admits he sort of stumbled upon the strength-in-numbers approach early in the season while trying to find the right combinations. But the players bought into the system quickly and have maintained their energy and enthusiasm for it throughout.

“In my 20 years, I’ve never had a team like this, that plays so well together, that battles for each other,” Gonyea said.

“When your best player plays 23 minutes a game and sits 17, what’s that tell you about the rest of the kids?” Gonyea said, referring to YSCC player of the year and USCAA All-American point guard Luis Medina. “You’re 30-2 and everybody’s contributing. It’s a good feeling. It’s a good team feeling.”

Medina, the nation’s leader in assists (10.1 apg) and the Mustangs’ second-leading scorer (11.7 ppg) has been the linchpin, pushing the breakneck pace while keeping things from spinning out of control.

Sophomore guard Shaun Hill, who came off the bench to lead the Mustangs in scoring (15.9 ppg), showed his explosiveness in a 29-point performance in the YSCC title game. That was the highlight of the bench’s 56-point output in the 90-69 win over St. Joseph’s College of Vermont.

CMCC led the nation while averaging 98.8 ppg, so scoring options abound. Aside from Hill and Medina, the Mustangs had five other players average at least eight points per game, including swingman Kazre Cummings (11.2 ppg), guard Jalen Lincoln (9 ppg) and former Valley of Bingham star Carrington Miller (8.9 ppg).

Of course, the Mustangs can’t score without the ball. And while they do turn it over a lot (18 per game), they take it back a lot more often, leading the nation in turnovers forced (29.2) and rebounding (46.6).

That gets back to the regular supplies of fresh legs and the advantages the Mustangs feel will play out over the full 40 minutes. But the numbers mayh favor defending champion Warren Wilson College and the rest of the field in one area; the age bracket.

“One thing that is a factor is we’re the only two-year school in the tournament,” Gonyea said. “I’ve got my 18- and 19-year-olds playing against 22- and 23-year-olds. Visualize a high school freshman playing against a high school senior. It’s almost the same thing.”

“So our backs are against the wall,” Gonyea added, “but we like that a little bit, the challenge of it.”


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