The University of Maine men’s basketball team had its best season in a long time by many metrics.
The Black Bears, under new head coach Chris Markwood, won 13 games, including seven in America East, both their most wins since 2010-11. They scored 68.5 points per game, their most since 2015-16, and earned the seven seed in the conference tournament, its highest since 2016.
Even after losing to the second-seeded University of Massachusetts Lowell 85-54 in the first round of the America East tournament, getting to the game was itself an achievement — even if Markwood and the players may tell you that just playing in the tournament wasn’t the goal.
UMaine was picked to finish last in the conference, but finished in seventh and just two games out of third place.
There are a lot of reasons to look ahead and feel positive about the direction UMaine is headed, and Markwood is at the center of it.
UMaine started its season 4-1 with a huge road victory over Boston College, a team for which Markwood was previously an assistant coach. After the program won just six games a year prior and returned nine players with eight newcomers, turning the program around quickly was a testament to the players.
“Starting back to when I got the job, the transition with Kellen [Tynes], Gedi [Juozapaitis] and Jaden [Clayton] and how they handled the transition was amazing, and I think they’ve grown a ton,” Markwood said.
UMaine earned its sixth win in its 10th game of the year, a 50-47 win over Merrimack on Dec. 11. The Black Bears had some big breakout stars that helped the program to its hot start.
Kellen Tynes, a sophomore guard that transferred in from Montana State, burst onto the scene when he stole the ball seven times against UMaine Fort Kent in the second game of the season.
Tynes went on to notch 98 steals and break the Black Bears’ single-season steals record. The sophomore led Division I in steals per game with 3.3 and was second in total steals.
He won the America East Defensive Player of the Year award and earned a spot on the third-team all-conference team. The sophomore is also one of 25 finalists nationwide for the Lefty Driesell Defensive Player of the Year award.
On Nov. 21, Tynes was named the America East Player of the Week while his backcourt teammate Jaden Clayton, a freshman, won Rookie of the Week. The duo were first and second (54) in steals in America East and quickly took control of the team.
Tynes averaged 14.3 points per game and Clayton scored 6.9. The leading scorer on the team was Juozapaitis at 15.4 points.
Juozapaitis transferred to UMaine from Georgia Southern as a fifth-year graduate student. He shot 39.9 percent from beyond the arc and made 73 triples, good enough for second in the conference.
UMaine had a tough eight-game losing streak in the middle of the year with five of the losses beginning the conference schedule. But the Black Bears bounced back and finished the season 7-5.
There were games throughout the year that the Black Bears should have won, and the team would admit that, too. Losses to Fordham and Marist at the end of the non-conference schedule were games that slipped from the Black Bears’ grasp, as did their regular season loss to UMass Lowell.
Still, by the end of the season UMaine learned how to win. The regular season finale against Bryant at The Pit, following an earlier 18-point loss to the Bulldogs, was a massive win for the program.
Where the Black Bears need to improve for next season is scoring and post play.
Juozapaitis will be gone next year and Tynes is the only remaining player on the roster that averaged double-digit points. The Black Bears will need to add a shooter or two and a player that can create his own shot.
UMaine also struggled with big man depth. Kristians Feierbergs missed five games and exposed how thin the team’s front line is. Ata Turgut and Feierbergs played the most at forward with Milos Nenadic coming in when needed, but if the Black Bears can add solid depth at the forward and center spots they’ll be in much better shape.
A whole offseason together will also do wonders for the back court of Clayton and Tynes, as it will for the entire team. Markwood had to bring the team together on the fly this year and try to meld together transfers and returners.
Logan Carey, a guard from St. Paul’s in New Hampshire, will be joining the team next year as a freshman, and the transfer portal is always an opportunity for Markwood and the coaching staff to find hidden gems to bring in.
Markwood said he doesn’t want to ask for people to come watch the team, but let the product speak for itself. In the season finale at home against Bryant, the stands were packed and the noise was deafening. The Black Bears are on the right track.
“I hate how it ended but over the last 11 games we played great basketball and competed in the league at a high level and as a coach you just want to get better and we did that,” Markwood said.
“Obviously we ran into a buzzsaw at Lowell and I think what this game shows you, and I’ve been in basketball for a long time, is that even though you’ve made a little progress in year one this game can humble you and show you have a long way to go.”