The University of Maine is riding its first losing streak of the season after losses to Brown, Fordham and, most recently, to Marist in London.
Now, the Black Bears are trying to right the ship.
The team is learning from its recent shortcomings as it prepares to start America East league play next month. It is still ranked as the 177th-best team in Division I based on the most-recent NCAA Evaluation Tool Rankings, a far-cry from this time last season when the Black Bears ranked dead last.
The Black Bears opened their season with a 13-point loss on the road at Nebraska, a game that the Black Bears weren’t expected to be competitive in.
But UMaine gained confidence from the Nebraska contest as it battled back within one point midway through the second half, and from there rattled off four wins in a row.
One of the wins during its win streak was on the road at Boston College. The victory on Nov. 14 felt like a monumental shift in a program that won just six games the year before.
During its winning streak, UMaine scored 79.5 points per game and gave up just 59.2. During that time, Kellen Tynes was named the America East player of the week and Jaden Clayton was named America East rookie of the week the same week.
In that week, Tynes averaged 19 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and three steals a game in wins over Boston College and Columbia. Clayton averaged 11 points, 4.5 assists and 4.5 rebounds.
Over their last three losses, the Black Bears have scored just 63.6 points per game while giving up 68.
UMaine’s first loss was to Brown on Nov. 27, 70-63. Brown took a 17-point lead with 10 minutes to go in the game, 64-47. While UMaine was able to cut the lead to 68-63 with 19 seconds remaining, Brown hung on for the win.
Kino Lilly Jr. scored 32 points for the Bears to overshadow Tynes’ 24 points.
“I’d say just as a team we have to be more disciplined,” Tynes said. “Against Brown more of the stuff was scout details. You can take a lot of points off the board if you lock in on your scouts. We need to be more disciplined there.”
From there, UMaine then took on Fordham on the road. With 8:14 left in the game, Peter Filipovity hit a jumper to put UMaine ahead 54-46.
Fordham then went on a 15-3 run to take a four-point lead with four minutes to go, and a couple of dunks by big man Abdou Tsimbila and two clutch free throws from Darius Quisenberry helped the Rams steal the win from the Black Bears.
“Fordham was tough and it was hard because they poured everything they had into the game,” Maine coach Chris Markwood said after the loss. “We played really well and were in control for 34 minutes. … We couldn’t make enough winning plays, open shots, 50-50 balls. We have to keep building on it and we have a lot to learn about closing out games.”
The next day the team left New York for London to prepare for its game against Marist in the Basketball Hall of Fame London Showcase at The O2 Arena.
The game fell out of the Black Bears’ grasp at the end.
Marist took a seven-point lead with 13:14 left in the contest before Maine charged back to lead 59-53 with 2:49 left.
The Black Bears had all the momentum before the Red Foxes went on a 9-2 run and took a 62-61 lead with 21 seconds remaining with Marist’s Kam Farris grabbing an offensive rebound and scoring a layup.
“We had a couple defensive lapses that led to some quick buckets from them,” Markwood said. “We had some not so great execution against their 1-3-1 zone that allowed them to get stops and all of a sudden they got scores.”
Marist got the ball back and Farris missed a free throw with 14 seconds left, leaving UMaine with two shots at the hoop to win the game but both shots from Ja’Shonte Wright-McLeish and Kellen Tynes rimmed out.
Now UMaine is 4-4 on the season with University of Maine Augusta traveling to Orono on Thursday.
“It’s a matter of getting four to six possessions better,” Markwood said. “If you get back and execute better in four to six possessions combined in the last two games you’re looking at two wins and not two losses. Those are the razor thin margins in Division I basketball. You’ve got to make those things happen, you can’t just hope those things happen.”
The Black Bears shot 2-for-9 in the final five minutes of play against Marist.
UMaine forward Gedi Juozapaitis has averaged 14.1 points per game this season while shooting 50 percent from 3-point range. Marist knew this, game planned around the senior’s shooting ability, and tried to slow him down.
Against the Red Foxes, Juozapaitis shot 0-for-3 from the 3-point line and scored just seven points. Markwood said that Marist did a great job disrupting Juozapaitis but the team has other options on offense that can — and will — step up.
“He’s played at a really high level the first eight games of the season and he handled it great,” Markwood said of Juozapaitis. “He knew they’d come after him, he didn’t force the issue and he’s a really good passer. It’s a game-by-game thing and when you play well there’s going to be an X on your back. Him, Jaden, Kellen, Kristians [Feierbergs], we have a lot of guys that can do things and we have guys that are going to keep stepping up.”
UMaine is now preparing for the UMaine Augusta game at home before going back on the road for three games against Merrimack, Akron and Ohio State. The Black Bears play at home against Harvard on Dec. 28 before the start of America East play on Jan. 5 on the road against the University of Massachusetts Lowell.
In losses, the Black Bears lose the turnover battle by one per game. In wins, they have, on average, a 4.25 turnover advantage.
One reason for the turnover advantage in wins is Tynes, who at 3.2 steals per game is ranked third in the NCAA. The transfer from Montana State is also tied for third in the country in total steals with 26. Maine is 57th in the country as a team in steals with 76.
“I feel good,” Tynes said of his defense this season. “I feel like the coaches are always on me defensively and I feel like that really helps. And a lot of the time if you’re in the right spot and you follow the coach’s principles a lot of teams will just give you the ball if you stay disciplined.”