The University of Maine at Farmington men’s basketball team knew it could win the conference last year. Then the Beavers put themselves in position, taking the top seed. They had homecourt throughout the North Atlantic Conference playoffs.

And then…the ride ended. UMF lost to Thomas in the semifinals, 86-85, and the preseason hopes of a title were dashed.

Thomas College’s Justin Butler, left, strips the ball from University of Maine at Farmington’s Isaac Witham during a game last season at Thomas College in Waterville. Morning Sentinel file photo by Michael G. Seamans

“We’re still devastated,” senior forward Riley Robinson said. “We can’t get that taste out of our mouths.”

They’ll have a chance to make up for it, though. Robinson and the rest of the senior-laden Beavers were ranked No. 1 in the NAC preseason poll, and for a team deemed the best coming in — and off a difficult loss, to boot — the expectations are pretty straightforward.

“Our goal for this year is just championship or bust,” said Robinson, a starting forward. “We’re all on the same page there.”

A title would be the program’s first since 2010.

“Certainly, that is the goal of the team,” coach Dick Meader said. “The potential for a very good season is there. We just have got to get it done.”

It sounds a lot like last year, when the Beavers ranked second in the preseason poll and were bullish on their championship chances. The difference this season, however, is urgency; UMF rebuilt with a freshman core three years ago, and those freshmen took strides into their sophomore and junior seasons.

They’re seniors now, and they’re well aware that this is the last shot.

“This really is the last go-around,” said Skowhegan alum and starting guard Issac Witham, one of four seniors in the starting lineup along with Robinson, guard Amir Moss and forward Bill Ruby. “We’ve got to get it done this year, for sure.”

They like their chances. There’s ample chemistry in the starting lineup — Witham, Moss and Robinson started as freshmen, while Ruby started as a sophomore — there’s veteran depth in players like senior center Anthony Owens of Winthrop, and there are some emerging standouts like sophomore Jack Kane, who played 22 minutes in the team’s opener with the University of Maine at Augusta, a 111-81 win, and scored 14 points with 11 rebounds.

“This is the best team that we’ve had so far,” said Robinson, who scored 14 points in the opener. “I think we have a lot of different skill sets that really complement each other well. … We all know what we do well and what our teammates do well, and we’re able to put each other in the right position.”

The key for the Beavers, however, could be the newest addition to the team. Terion Moss, the 2018 Mr. Maine Basketball winner and Amir’s brother, transferred over after playing for the University of Maine and has made an immediate impact at the point, scoring 22 points with six rebounds, six assists and six steals in the win over UMA.

Robinson said it was evident right away how the younger Moss could elevate the team.

“He’s a great playmaker,” he said. “He’s the definition of a point guard. He makes everyone around him better, and we’re really all going to benefit from his playmaking ability.”

Witham said Moss has fit into the veteran mix seamlessly.

“He’s a great addition for our team,” Witham said. “He’s pretty unselfish, too. He is being integrated into what we already had and what we’ve already done, and he’s done that really well. He brings a lot to the table, high tempo, high energy. He’s a very skilled player, and he’s won at a lot of levels. He knows how to win.”

It won’t look exactly like last year. On offense, Meader is hoping to utilize a more up-tempo pace, allowing the team to utilize its ball-moving talents and smooth rhythm in transition.

“We’re trying to play faster, but we’ve got to make sure we have the skills to play at that speed,” Meader said. “We move the ball well, we’re very capable. … We’ve got to find a consistent shooter in the group, and that will go a long way.”

Witham said the team is playing more aggressively on defense as well.

“Last year we played heavily zone,” he said. “This year, I think we’re going to play a little more man. I think we’re pretty versatile, we can do a lot of things.”

Witham’s hoping that intensity carries over from the first game of the season to the last.

“At this point, (coaches) shouldn’t be harping on us about bringing energy,” he said. “That’s something that we’ve got to bring every day. … That’s ultimately what will lead to our success.”

Success they’re hoping includes a conference title that, thus far, has proven elusive.

“We’ve had this goal since freshman year,” Witham said. “We’re finally getting down to it, and trying to win it all.”

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