University of Maine’s Kellen Tynes celebrates the Black Bears 103-67 victory over UMaine Augusta in Orono on Dec. 8. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Northeastern assistant coach Chris Markwood got in his car and left after the Huskies’ 76-74 loss to Delaware on Jan. 25, 2020, and drove south to New York City to watch Kellen Tynes and Rothesay Netherwood School play against Our Saviour Lutheran.

Our Saviour Lutheran features Posh Alexander and Dylan Addae-Wusu, both now on the St. John’s University team. Tynes was matched up against Alexander, and Markwood was impressed with what Tynes was able to do against a future Division I starter.

Markwood kept Tynes on his radar.

After two seasons at Montana State, Tynes entered the transfer portal right as Markwood accepted the job to become the head coach of the University of Maine. Markwood immediately began recruiting the Canadian guard and soon the Black Bears landed the talented defender.

This season, Tynes has notched 40 steals through the team’s first 11 games, which places the sophomore in second place in the NCAA. His steals-per-game average of 3.08 also puts him second, trailing Malique Jacobs of Kent State in both categories (42, 3.50).

“He’s a menace,” Tynes’ teammate Gedi Juozapaitis said. “He makes it easy on us, gets points in transition. He brings intensity in practice and in games and he makes everyone step up their game because he’s always on you. We follow his lead.”

Tynes has seemingly always been strong on the defensive end, and it comes from something his parents told him when he was young.

“‘Sometimes you have bad offensive games but you can always have a good defensive game,’” Tynes recalled. “That stuff is in your control with your effort, off the ball, talking on defense and that’s stuff I was taught when I was young so I’ve carried that with me.”

In high school, Tynes averaged 4.7 steals per game as a senior and won the National Preparatory Association’s Defensive Player of the Year award his junior and senior years.

Tynes was on Markwood’s radar as a high schooler and was also being recruited by current UMaine assistant Jordan Bronner while he was at the University of New Hampshire.

After two years with Montana State, both were able to get their guy. Tynes has been all they imagined and more.

“He’s a competitor,” Markwood said of Tynes. “That’s one thing about him is he’s competitive and that’s his best trait. You can’t be an elite defender without having that innately in you. You have to be competitive to be a great defender and he has that ten-fold.”

Against UMaine Fort Kent early in the season, Tynes notched seven steals, a season high. He’s tallied five steals in games against Central Connecticut State and Merrimack while grabbing four against Columbia. Against Ohio State, Tynes stole the ball three times.

His long arms and quickness help, as the sophomore is constantly jumping passing lanes and tipping balls out off the dribble. Watching a lot of film with assistant coach Rob O’Driscoll also helps, but many on the coaching staff will tell you a lot of Tynes’ steals come from Tynes just being smart on the defensive end.

“I think it’s a combination of that’s what he does naturally, he’s a ball hawk. He has great quickness, lateral quickness, hand speed, he just sniffs that stuff out,” Markwood said. “I’ve been around a lot of guys like him and when you’re in the top-10 in the country in steals, it’s something you have. It’s what he’s always done since high school.”

Tynes is given the toughest perimeter matchup every game for UMaine to shut down their offense as much as possible. Bronner remembers the week leading up to UMaine’s game against Columbia, Tynes was preparing for Columbia’s Geronimo Rubio De La Rosa, who entered the game averaging 15 points per game.

Tynes held him to seven points on 3-of-10 shooting from the field.

“He wanted to shut him down and his leadership gets the other guys around him going,” Bronner said. “It’s contagious.”

Teams have started to pay close attention to Tynes and design offense away from his side of the court. UMaine assistant coach Pete Gash likened Tynes to a shutdown cornerback in football where teams avoid throwing the ball to him. Teams avoid Tynes at times, letting players like Juozapaitis and Tynes’ backcourt teammate, Jaden Clayton, make plays.

When there is a steal from Tynes, it often leads to instant offense.

“It helps me get some transition dunks,” Juozapaitis said. “I’m not that quick anymore and so whenever JC or Kell get steals I get some easy dunks. It’s easy points and we’ll take any points we can get.”

UMaine opens its America East schedule on Jan. 5 on the road at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. The Black Bears’ home conference opener is Sunday at 2 p.m. at The Pit against New Jersey Institute of Technology.

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Adam Robinson

Adam Robinson is a native of Auburn, Maine, and graduate of Husson University and Edward Little High School. He enjoys sports, going on runs and video games.