Maine's Kellen Tynes, right, drives to the basket against Ohio State's Zed Key during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2022, in Columbus, Ohio. Credit: Jay LaPrete / AP

The University of Maine men’s basketball team had a 28-17 lead over Binghamton with less than four minutes left in the first half on Jan. 22 when Kellen Tynes began planning his next move.

Binghamton’s John McGriff dribbled around the 3-point line to the left and geared up for a dribble-hand off to Jacob Falko, an all-America East guard last year.

Tynes was on McGriff and waited for the handoff before jumping out from behind McGriff and taking the ball straight out of Falko’s hands.

Tynes then went on a fast break and was fouled on a layup.

The steal was just one of six that the 6-foot-3 junior guard from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, made in that game at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, which the Black Bears went on to win 78-57.

“I knew they were going to hand off and Falko, he is a good player, so I had to switch aggressively and they did a soft hand off so I knew I could get my hands in there and rip the ball from him,” Tynes said of the play.

Tynes’ defense turns into instant offense for UMaine, and his quick thinking and quick hands have made him the nation’s top steal getter. Heading into UMaine’s showdown on Saturday with the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Tynes still has firm leads on total steals (73) and steals per game (3.04). It feels like every game Tynes wows everyone in the gym with his defensive prowess and steal numbers.

Earlier in the year when Tynes was second in the nation with 40 steals, Tynes tried to adjust the spotlight to his teammates, as well.

“I think it’s nice but it’s definitely not all me. I’ll take credit for some of the steals but a lot of the time I am in the right spot and right position and a teammate will tip the ball to me,” Tynes said. “It’s about our team defense, because a lot of the time I’ll just get a deflection after being in the right spot. Our team defense can be pretty good.”

After Tynes stole the ball five times in UMaine’s big 84-49 win over the University of Maryland Baltimore County on Feb. 4, Markwood talked about the value of Tynes’ steals on the Black Bears’ offense.

University of Maine’s Kellen Tynes celebrates the Black Bears 103-67 victory over UMaine Augusta in Orono on Dec. 8, 2022. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

“He’s got a nose for the ball,” Markwood said. “When he does that he has some timely ones where he gets a steal and then a dunk. Any time you can steal five possessions, you’re almost always getting three or four extra possessions.”

The most steals Tynes has in a single game so far this season is seven. The record in a game for the Black Bears men’s basketball team is eight.

He’s also closing in on Marty Higgins, who during the 1991-92 season notched a program record 95 steals, as well as second place Casey Arena, who tallied 76 steals in 1993-94.

It’s Tynes’ positioning that helps turn defense into offense, according to assistant coach Rob O’Drisscol, who coaches say watches the most film with Tynes.

“We lead the league in steals and we try to make sure we’re always in good position,” O’Driscoll said, adding that Tynes is always “locked in” and takes pride in his defense.

“He’ll get a steal and a lot of times it will be in position but if he’s guarding on the perimeter and he gets it, a lot of the time it’s an uncontested layup or a two-on-one fastbreak and he puts us in a lot of great offensive positions from his defense,” O’Driscoll added.

UMaine has a huge lead over the America East conference in team steals with 228, followed in second place by Bryant at 175. Tynes’ backcourt teammate, freshman Jaden Clayton, has 40 steals on the year and is in second place in the conference in steals and tied for 126th in the nation.

The two have become close friends and play off each other on the court to help UMaine’s strong defense.

“Those guys are a one-two combo and they feed off each other,” O’Driscoll said. “The defense starts with them but a lot of it comes from positions. We don’t trap, we aren’t a gambling team for steals so a lot of it comes from being in the right position and making sure we’re formed up defensively and going from there. A lot of their skills come from being disciplined.”

“Everything starts with them,” O’Driscoll added. “They start it and the rest of the defense flows from them. They set the tone with on-ball defense and if you apply the right pressure at the start it makes it easier for them.”

Tynes can make steals in a multitude of ways.

If he’s guarding a player without the ball, Tynes is constantly watching passing lanes to intercept a pass in the blink of an eye. If Tynes is guarding the ball handler, his quick hands help him stab at the ball without losing his defensive positioning and that’s what puts him apart from his peers.

Early in UMaine’s game against UMass Lowell, Tynes made a steal on the baseline by jumping a pass with his arms straight up, tipping it to himself and turning up court for a breakaway.

“I knew they were trying to get it in the post and the way our post rotations are set up it was my help, so I went over with high hands and was able to get my hands on it,” Tynes said. “Fortunately I have long arms so I was able to get my hands on it.”

“I think for him, obviously he’s very quick,” O’Driscoll said. “His anticipation skills are really good but he’s very active with his hands. He can use his hands to be active while still not getting out of position. If he’s guarding someone on the ball he can get a steal without putting the team in a bad position. He’s really good at being locked in and he’s really active with his hands.”

If Tynes wants to break the UMaine steals record before the playoffs, he’ll have to average 4.4 steals over the final five regular season games. But his pride in his work could take him over the top.

“He came in and he’s doing a great job,” O’Driscoll said. “He comes to work every day really locked in on the defensive end. We always talk about being in the right position. He takes his positioning and decision making to heart.”

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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.