BANGOR, Maine — Mitch Worcester is having the sort of postseason he had envisioned at the beginning of the Husson University men’s basketball season.

The 6-foot-3, 185-pound junior guard scored 22 points to help the Eagles defeat Lyndon State in the North Atlantic Conference semifinals last Friday, then came back the next day with 24 points and six rebounds as Husson bested Thomas College of Waterville to win the NAC championship.

That earned the Eagles (21-6) a berth in the NCAA Division III tournament, beginning Friday night with a matchup at third-ranked Babson College in Massachusetts.

The two-game outburst in his return to Husson’s starting lineup earned Worcester a spot on the NAC all-tournament team and reflected a recent surge by the former 2,000-point scorer from Washburn District High School.

“If you look at the last nine games he’s been averaging 18.5 points, shooting 47 percent from the field and 52 percent from the 3-point line and 87 percent from the foul line,” said Husson coach Warren Caruso. “Those stats were more than we expected but that’s what we needed from him — 14 to 16 points a game as that consistent second scorer.”

While the Eagles — 16-2 in their last 18 games — may be peaking in time for the nationals, life on the court this winter hasn’t been all that straightforward for Worcester, a 2013 Bangor Daily News All-Maine honoree.

He started 12 games as a freshman at Husson after a year as a practice player at the University of Maine, then saw considerable duty off Eagles’ the bench last season after returning from a broken foot bone that caused him to miss eight games.

He anticipated this season filling some of the offensive void left by two-time NAC Player of the Year Trevon Butler, who as a senior last year averaged more than 21 points per game.

“I definitely had that in the back of my mind and I definitely wanted to be that person who would score whatever the team needed me to score to be successful,” said Worcester.

He got off to a quick start but as the Eagles grew more inconsistent and with his team at 5-4 near Christmas, Caruso shuffled his starting lineup and Worcester was one of the casualties. He was sent to the bench to become part of a veteran second unit that included seniors Eli Itkin, Zach Curran and Alonzo McCain.

“We looked at Mitch as needing to have a big year for us to be good,” said Caruso. “The first game of the year I think he had 24 points and played brilliantly and then it was a little bit up and down for him like it was with all of our upperclassmen.

“I think there was an element of (wanting to replace Butler’s production) with all our upperclassmen. You just don’t replace a 20-point scorer unless you’re a 20-point scorer, and our theory was that we were going to replace him as a unit.

“Once we started figuring that out, we became a very good basketball team.”

The change initially created some uncertainty for Worcester.

“It’s hard to explain,” he said. “I trusted (Caruso) but I wasn’t getting as many minutes and I wasn’t able to start. Where I’d played basketball before the best players always started, so it was kind of a knock on me but I just had to embrace the role and understand what the coach was trying to do — and we were winning so I didn’t have much to complain about.”

By midseason Husson’s second unit had established its own identity, and among the byproducts of that chemistry was a renewal of Worcester’s offensive swagger.

“When I was going through that slump I felt like I wasn’t making decisions quick enough and playing my style of basketball, which is a scorer,” he said. “I was a little tentative with some of my shots, but now I’m shooting with confidence and playing with confidence.”

Caruso noticed the same thing, leading to his decision to restore Worcester as a starting guard alongside 2017 NAC Player of the Year Raheem Anderson in time for the conference playoffs.

“I think it’s as much confidence and Mitch feeling like he has the freedom to play like he should,” said Caruso. “One of the strengths of our program over the years is that there aren’t a lot of constraints on our guys. We play with a lot of freedom within our system and I think Mitch has done a good job of shot selection within that freedom.

“Early on there were times when it was, ‘Mitch, that’s not the shot we want,’ but now because he plays with more confidence and greater understanding I think things have clicked for him.”

Worcester, who is averaging 13.9 points per game for the season while shooting 47 percent from the field, 42 percent from beyond the 3-point line and 85 percent from the free-throw line, is focused now on helping Husson secure an NCAA tournament victory.

The challenge is formidable, as Babson (25-2) was the nation’s top-ranked Division III team until losing to MIT in the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference tournament final last weekend.

“They’re big and physical, they really execute their plays and get the best shots they can get, and they do that time and time again trying to wear you down,” said Worcester. “I feel like we’re almost the opposite. We’re a run-and-gun team. If it’s early in the shot clock or late in the shot clock we’re going to take the shots we want.

“It’s going to be a battle of who executes their game plan better, but I feel like we have a chance to make some noise,” he added. “I really trust our team with what we’ve gone through over the course of the year. It’s been a little bit of a roller coaster.”

Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...