Coming off an impressive tournament in Tennessee to close out 2013, the Black Bears open up America East play with renewed confidence and a fresh slate. Maine men's basketball hosts Binghamton on Jan. 5 as part of a basketball double header as the squad follows the women's game at 2 p.m. at the Cross Insurance Center. The Black Bears are looking to avenge a one-point loss the Bearcats handed Maine the last time these two teams met in Maine as the contest is slated for a 4:30 p.m. start time.
LAST TIME OUT
The Maine men's basketball team maintained the lead for the entire first half but faltered in the second frame as the Chattanooga Mocs (7-8) won the Dr. Pepper Classic Championship, defeating the Black Bears, 86-80, last Monday night. Dimitry Akanda-Coronel had another strong game for the Black Bears tallying 24 points but the loss gives Maine a 2-10 record to wrap up 2013.
Maine's offense was once again sparked by Akanda-Coronel who was named America East player of the week earlier in the day following a 27-point performance against Middle Tennessee State last Sunday night. The Boston, Mass., native excelled from 3-point range hitting on 5-of-7 from beyond the arc and shooting 8-of-18 from the field. He also led the team in rebounding taking down six boards, total.
Kilian Cato had his second-consecutive strong outing for the Black Bears as he once again reached double-figures in points shooting 5-of-9 from the field for 12 points. Christian Ejiga, Troy Reid-Knight and Shaun Lawton all tallied 10.
Chattanooga was fueled by the efforts four players who all reached double-figures. Casey Jones and Ronrico White both tallied 20 points apiece while Gee McGhee also chipped in 17 points for the Mocs and Z. Mason recorded 15. Those four players accounted for all but 14 of Chattanooga's points.
The Black Bears finished shooting a respectable 47 percent from the field but second half defense let Maine down as Chattanooga finished the game shooting 51 percent.
Maine not only let the score slip away but also its lead in the rebounding department finishing the game with 36 rebounds while Chattanooga took down 41.
SCOUTING THE BLACK BEARS
The Black Bears finished 2013 at the Dr. Pepper Classic hosted by Chattanooga and put forth two impressive showings. Maine upended, then 8-4, Middle Tennessee State with a thrilling 89-85, victory and nearly did the same to Chattanooga in the tournament championship, falling to the Mocs, 86-80. The two competitive performances should provide confidence for a Black Bear team that came into the tournament with one win and was searching for its first against a division I opponent.
Another reason for optimism was the strong play of Dimitry Akanda-Coronel who scored 27 points against the Blue Raiders and followed that performance up with 24 against Chattanooga. Akanda-Coronel started the season on fire, going seven-straight contests scoring double-figure points but had been mired in a five-game streak where he hadn't reached the double-digit plateau. Also a surprise in the tournament was the strong play of newly returned forward, Kilian Cato. The junior posted back-to-back 12-point games for the Black Bears.
SCOUTING THE BEARCATS
The Bearcats enter conference play having gone 3-10 in their non-conference slate. Binghamton recorded wins against Cornell (89-79), Mount St. Mary's (74-70) and Bryant (67-62).
The team is paced by Jordan Reed who has started all but one of the 13 games and is averaging 16.1 points. Marlon Beck and Nick Madray are tied for second on the team in points per game with 11.0, each.
Reed also is the Bearcats rebounds leader bringing down 8.9 boards per contest, nearly doubling the second-place boards leader, Magnus Richards, who takes down 4.5.
SERIES HISTORY VS BINGHAMTON
This is the 27th meeting between these two squads as the series is tied 13-13. Coming into the contest the Black Bears have won seven of the last eight contests with Binghamton's only win coming last season, upsetting the Black Bears, 57-56 in Orono. In the squad's last 10 meetings Maine has gone 7-3.
RANKING THE BLACK BEARS
While the Black Bears have struggled against a tough non-conference slate so far, Maine does rank fairly highly in many categories, in both the NCAA and the America East conference.
NCAA Rankings (As of Dec. 28)
• Shaun Lawton is now ranked 27th in the nation in steals per game with a 2.33 mark, he was previously 29th.
• Lawton is ranked 87th in the country in total steals with 21.
• Zarko Valjarevic ranked 31st and 33rd in 3-pointers made per game (3.00) and 3-pointer percentage (.448)
• Valjarevic is also slotted in at 65th in the nation in total treys made nailing 30 so far this season.
• Maine is now 43rd in the country in steals per game with 8.0 per contest.
• The Black Bears are ranked within the top-100 teams in the country (95th) in assists per game, averaging 14.4 per game.
America East Rankings (as of Dec. 28)
• Maine is the No. 2 scoring offense in the conference with 76.4 points per game while they rank as the league's eighth scoring defense letting up 90 ppg.
• Maine ranks third in the league in field goal percentage with a .447 mark
• Ranked No. 2 in fewest turnovers (137) and third in fewest fouls (214)
• Lawton is both 3rd in the AE in assists (4.8) and first in steals (2.3).
• Valjarevic is the conference's deadliest 3-point shooter ranking first in
3-pointers per game (3.00), 3-point percentage (.448) and 3-pointers made (30)
• Lawton is ranked second in the conference in both assist turnover ratio (1.68) and assists per game (4.7)
• Team Quick Hit Rankings:
• 1st in assists per game (14.4)
• 2nd in assist turnover ratio (1.05)
• 2nd in fewest turnovers (137)
• 2nd in steals per game (8.0)
• 2nd in total steals (80)
• 2nd in turnover margin (-0.2)
• 3rd in 3-pointers per game (6.4)
• 3rd in total assists (144)
THREE KEYS TO VICTORY
The Black Bears have gotten off to a 2-10 start so far this year, and in order to turn it around the Black Bears need to improve in several categories. Here is how the stats suggest the Black Bears turn it around
• Build On Confidence: The Black Bears nearly went two months between wins but had a terrific showing in the Dr. Pepper Classic to end 2013, tallying a win over, then 8-4 Middle Tennessee, and nearly doing the same against Chattanooga in the tournament championship. With a new season coming up with conference starting this weekend, this is a perfect time for the Black Bears to shed the feelings of past losses and use its success in their last tournament to fuel the squad in America East play.
• Rebound From Poor Rebounding: Maine's Achilles heal so far this season has been cleaning up the glass. They've been outrebounded 11 times this year and it's no surprise that 10 of those 11 contests went into the loss column. The team needs to improve its boards-margin (-10.9) in order to come away with wins. The Black Bears have been out rebounded by single-digits four of the last eight games but have only managed more boards than their opponents just once.
• Maintain Hot Shooting: The Black Bears have consistently improved it's shooting throughout the season and that needs to continue while the team tries to shore up the defense. The Black Bears have shot .450 or better in its last four games. It has also reached the 50 percent mark twice in those four contests. The squad is ranked third in the conference in field goal percentage (.447) and second in scoring offense (77.2 ppg). If the Black Bears can continue that trend while improving its rebounding numbers the wins should pick up against a tamer America East schedule.
The Black Bears concluded what was a challenging non-conference slate and it should serve Maine moving forward. The combined record of the nine division I teams the squad faced during their non-conference stretch was 74-45 and had a combined .621 win percentage. Of those nine teams, only two had a record below .500 as NJIT and Army were the only teams without a winning record.
AKANDA-CORONEL HEATS UP
Maine fans have enjoyed the emergence of their sophomore guard, Dimitry Akanda-Coronel. The second-year player started the season with five-straight games recording 10-or-more points, highlighted by a 29-point affair against NJIT on Nov. 19, 2013. Akanda-Coronel had been mired in a different streak before hitting the Dr. Pepper Classic last weekend going another five-straight games scoring less-than 10 points per contest. The Boston, Mass., native broke out of that slump in a big way in Tennessee, scoring 27 points against Middle Tennessee and followed it up with 24 points against Chattanooga the next night. It appears that Akanda-Coronel has heat up at the right time as the team gets ready for America East play with Binghamton on Sunday.
The Black Bears earned their first conference accolade of the season last week as Dimtry Akanda-Coronel earned the America East player of the week award after his 27-point night against the Blue Raiders on 12/29/13. Akanda-Coronel was two points shy of his career-best while also pulling down eight boards and dishing out four assists in the overtime win.
OVERTIME GAMES UNDER WOODWARD
The Black Bears won its first overtime game of the season this past weekend as the team upset Middle Tennessee using the extra frame, 89-85. The Black Bears are now once again over .500 when it comes to games that require an overtime as team's under Woodward's coaching are 4-3 overall. One of those wins came against the team's next opponent as Maine defeated the Binghamton Bearcats in 2009-10 defeating its America East foe, 66-61.
Kilian Cato made a big difference in the Black Bears offense after returning to the Maine roster following academic eligibility issues in the first half of the season. Cato scored 12 apiece against Middle Tennessee and Chattanooga while hitting 9-of-17 from the field. He also grabbed seven rebounds to cap off a strong return to the Black Bear lineup. The junior from Espoo, Finland provides another presence in the paint while bringing more experience to a young Black Bear roster.
Maine's offense has been its strength so far this season, averaging 77.2 points per contest and the Black Bears now have a quintet of players averaging double-digit points. Leading the charge is Xavier Pollard who averages 16.7 points per game while the former points leader, Dimitry Akanda-Coronel, who started the season with 10-or-more points through his first five games of the season, averages 15.7, following back-to-back 20-point games. Third on the scoring list is Zarko Valjarevic who is averaging 13.2 points per game while newly returned forward Kilian Cato is fourth with 12.0 points per game and Shaun Lawton is fifth with 10.2 points per game.
The Black Bears took time this non-conference season to get to know their lineup. Through 12 games, Maine sent out nine different starting lineups. Some of this has been due to injuries to key players but for the most part Maine is continuing to work out the kinks of a young team in the first half of the season. The Black Bears feature 11 players that have started at least one contest in 2013-14.
EJIGA MAKES AN IMPACT
On a team that is starved for presence in the paint; Black Bear fans should be thrilled to see the improvement of freshman Christian Ejiga. The first-year player has struggled to stay healthy so far this year but in his last three contests he has averaged 6.6 points and four rebounds while averaging 17 minutes per game. In his previous three contests he averaged just 8.3, showing he has earned the trust of the coaching staff.
Junior Xavier Pollard has proved to be a big part of the Black Bear offense so far this year. While the Bronx, N.Y., native has struggled to stay on the court after sitting out the Dr. Pepper Classic due to his second injury of the season, and he still leads the team in points per game with a 16.7 points per game along with 5.1 rebounds and 3.4 assists per contest. He also tallied the team's first double-double of the season when he recorded 18 points and 11 rebounds against NJIT on 12/4/13.
Zarko Valjarevic has made a name for himself in college basketball for being a 3-point specialist and both the NCAA and America East rankings suggest just that. Valjarevic is ranked (as of Dec. 28) 31st in the country in made treys with 3.00 per contest while he also ranked first in the conference in the same category. Valjarevic also leads the team in 3-pointers made, hitting 34 treys so far this season.
Sophomore Shaun Lawton has been a key player for Maine this season both providing key offense from the bench as well as filling in for injured Black Bears. He first came in for Xavier Pollard who exited the Fisher game with an injury and missed two contests and also filled in for a banged up Garet Beal and has been an asset ever since.
Lawton has been an assist and steals leader for Maine as he ranks second in the conference in assists per game (as of Dec. 28), (4.7) and first in America East in steals per game (2.3). Lawton's propensity for stealing the basketball also has him ranked on the national stage as he is tied for 27th in the nation in steals per game.
Xavier Pollard recorded the team's first double-double of the season as he tallied 18 points and 11 rebounds in the team's second meeting against NJIT. It's the first double-double since last season when Pollard scored 15 points and 12 assists vs. Siena (11/25/12), while it's the last points/rebound double-double since Troy Barnies accomplished the feat against New Hampshire on Jan. 25, 2011. This was Pollard's second career double-double.
The Black Bears have done a nice job stealing the basketball in 2013-14. Maine holds a +1.2 steals margin in their games as they have tallied 98 steals limiting opponents to 84, making for a 8.2-7.0 steals per-game-average ratio. Shaun Lawton leads the steal parade recording 28 in 11 games.
REBOUNDING THE KEY
The Black Bears have struggled in rebounding department so far in 2013-14. Maine enters the contest averaging 33.3 rebounds while allowing opponents to take down 44.2. That's why it should come, as no surprise that in the games that the team has been out rebounded it is 1-10.
Currently Xavier Pollard has been the Black Bears' best at coming down with the ball. He currently paces all Maine players in boards per game with 5.1.
INTO THE FIRE
The Black Bears have trusted the 2013-14 season to a young roster and because of that, freshmen have seen a significant amount of playing time. Garet Beal sixth on the team in minutes played as he averages 24.3 minutes per contest. While several other freshmen have played significant minutes as Troy Reid-Knight (16.6) and Christian Ejiga (12.7) both average double-digit minute figures while Erik Nissen (8.4) and Marko Pirovic (9.3) also hover around the ten minute per game mark.
FLIRTING WITH 30
Sophomore Dimitry Akanda-Coronel who is having a breakout campaign with his expanded role this year has come close to reaching 30-point for the first time since Nov. 28, 2012, when Justin Edwards scored 30 against Northeastern. Akanda-Coronel bested his career-high of 18, which he tallied against Rhode Island in the season opener by scoring 29 against NJIT on Nov. 9. He came close to that again against Middle Tennessee last weekend scoring 27. He also flirted with that 30-point mark again the following night, dropping 24 points against Chattanooga.