The University of Maine men’s basketball team defeated Columbia 93-70 at The Pit on Friday to move to 3-1 on the season, the team’s best start since it started 3-1 in the 2013-14 season.
Four starters scored in double digits and Peter Filipovity came off the bench and banked in 17 points of his own.
Kellen Tynes led the way with 21 points for the Black Bears.
“We are just getting our confidence,” Tynes said after the game. “We were picked last to win the America East so we think about that every day and it drives us every day in the weight room, on the court, off the court. It’s all contributing to what you see on the court. We’re getting to know each other a lot more and that’s been big for us.”
Jaden Clayton started on fire for the Black Bears, scoring twice and dishing out two assists to help UMaine to a 9-7 lead at the first media timeout.
Three minutes later, Tynes stole the ball at midcourt and finished a two-handed breakaway dunk to put the Black Bears ahead 17-7.
Clayton stopped a Columbia comeback attempt with a 3-pointer at the top of the arc that gave UMaine a 22-13 lead with 11:30 left in the half.
Clayton finished with 16 points and seven assists.
The two guards have a connection that began in the summer.
“He’s like my little brother,” Tynes said of Clayton. “Some of his family is from where I’m from in Nova Scotia and we know some mutual people. Ever since we came out here in the summer we’ve kind of just bonded instantly. I think we played well and it shows on the court.”
UMaine head coach Chris Markwood said he loves playing both guards together.
“They’re really close, best friends and they just bring a different dynamic with their ball quickness,” Markwood said. “They can get in the lane at will and they are great facilitators. They give us a great dynamic on the ball, you can play either at the point and anytime you can have multiple playmakers on the floor it helps offensively. Then defensively they both can guard.”
Gedi Juozapaitis scored 16 and Ja’Shonte Wright-McLeish finished with 11. Five players finished in double figures.
“We have multiple guys up and down the roster that can score, even guys that come off and don’t play a lot but can score for us,” Markwood said. “I think that’s a major strength of this team, the depth and versatility of the roster.”
Tynes hit a step back jumper after a crossover that fooled his defender, then a couple possessions later hit a jumper that put UMaine ahead 31-17, its largest lead to that point, with 7:25 left in the first half.
A Wright-McLeish three with 4:12 left in the half gave UMaine a 16-point lead, 39-23, and the Black Bears had all the momentum.
Clayton led all scorers with 11 points at the half, while Columbia’s Zine Eddine led the Lions with 10.
Columbia started the second half on a 9-2 run thanks in part to five points from Camron Shockley-Okeke, who also had a block on Juozapaitis’ dunk attempt. At the first media timeout, UMaine held a 50-41 advantage.
Tynes then took over for the next four minutes of play.
The sophomore guard hit a layup to put UMaine ahead 51-41, then later on a fastbreak caught an alley-oop pass from Filipovity that gave UMaine a 59-47 advantage.
Tynes then found Filipovity in the left corner on a cross-court pass, allowing Filipovity to make a strong move to the hoop and lay it in above the rim, which gave UMaine a 61-49 lead.
Columbia scored right before a timeout to cut its deficit to 61-51.
The Black Bears went with a big lineup with Clayton running the offense with four forwards and it led to Juozapaitis and Feierbergs both hitting threes to give UMaine a 17-point lead with nine minutes left in the game, 69-52.
Tynes followed up the threes with a mid-range jumper that gave the Black Bears their largest lead of the game, 71-52, with eight minutes left in the game.
Juozapaitis hit another 3-pointer from the left wing that gave UMaine a 76-55 lead with 5:42 left.
Tynes finished another breakaway dunk, hanging on the rim and smiling at the crowd as the Black Bears went ahead 82-60 with 4:30 to play.
“I was trying to wave my arms a little bit and get the crowd into it but they didn’t really need me to,” Tynes said. “Shout out to everyone who came out, the fans, the parents, the other athletes, it was electric in The Pit tonight for sure.”
Tynes finished a blistering 10-13 from the field.
Clayton found Tynes again for a layup with 2:30 left in the game that put UMaine ahead 84-64 for the freshman’s seventh assist of the game. Clayton finished with zero turnovers on the night.
Columbia’s Avery Brown led the Lions with 17 points, followed by Kenny Noland’s 13.
UMaine now gears up for a road game at Central Connecticut State on Wednesday and will try to get to 4-1 on the season.
“Anytime you’re coming from where we were as a program, you’re just trying to build confidence and belief and we want to get some wins to show that their effort, their blood, sweat and tears that they’re putting into it is working,” Markwood said.
“That’s the biggest gain you’re getting because it keeps them going every time we come back to practice. It’s a good start but we are far from where we want to be right now.”