Maine Men's Basketball Attempts to Stay Undefeated In Conference Play at Hartford

 

Maine Men's Basketball Attempts to Stay Undefeated In Conference Play at Hartford

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OPENING TIP

The Black Bears attempt to stay undefeated in conference play this week, as they take to the road following the team's first America East win of the season against Binghamton last Sunday, 82-66. The Black Bears ready for a two-game road swing starting on Thursday as they take on Hartford beginning at  7 p.m. and conclude with a game against UMBC on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. 

LAST TIME OUT

Dimitry Akanda-Coronel continued his torrid pace on last Sunday afternoon, recording his first career double-double, as the Black Bears opened up America East play with a 82-66 win against Binghamton, at the Cross Insurance Center. Akanda-Coronel scored 14 points and took down 10 boards in the winning-effort as Maine improved to 3-10 overall and 1-0 in conference, while Binghamton dropped to 3-11 and 0-1 in America East games.

It was a team effort when it came to the offense as the Black Bears had four players reach double-digit figures with junior forward, Kilian Cato leading the charge. Cato used a first-half surge, scoring 13 points in the opening frame as he finished the contest with 17 points, and three rebounds.

Akanda-Coronel struggled from the field but made the Bearcats pay at the stripe, as he shot 6-of-9 and finished with his 14 points and 10 rebounds. He also chipped in three assists. Zarko Valjarevic added 14 points in the win, shooting 50 percent (4-of-8) from beyond the arc and 5-of-11 from the field.

Jordan Reed paced the Bearcats as he accounted for 20 points and 15 rebounds as he recorded a double-double of his own, in the losing effort, while the Black Bears held every other Binghamton player to single digit point totals.

In what has been a rarity for the Black Bears this season and a possible sign of improvement, Maine won the rebounding battle taking down 47 boards to Binghamton's 43. That rebound-total is the second-highest of the season, and the highest when playing against a division I opponent.

It was the fourth-consecutive season that the Black Bears have opened up conference play with a victory, as Maine head coach Ted Woodward is now .500 in conference-openers (5-5).

Maine shot 44 percent for the game but more impressively held the Bearcats to under 40 percent with Binghamton shooting 25-of-67.

SCOUTING THE HAWKS

The Hawks enter the contest having gone 5-9 in its non-conference slate while it opened America East play with a loss to Albany, 81-56. 

Hartford is paced by a player that can do it all as Mark Nwakamma paces the squad in points scored (16.7) and rebounds per game (5.9) while he is second in assists per game with 2.1 and second in total blocks with five. 

The only other Hawks player to average double-figure points is Yolonzo Moore II who a

averages 10.1 per contest. Moore is also the assist leader dishing out 2.4 per game. 

Maine appears to match-up well against Hartford as the Hawks struggle to rebound, averaging less than the Black Bears at a 26.8 boards per game while only averaging 65.3 points per contest. 

SERIES HISTORY VS. HAWKS

The Black Bears and Hawks get ready for the 65th meeting between the two squads as Hartford currently holds a 36-28 advantage over Maine. Recent history hasn't been to kind to the Black Bears either, as the Hawks have won seven of the last 10 meetings between the two schools. Maine does hold the most recent victory, defeating Hartford, 66-64 in Orono, Maine in 2013, which snapped a seven-game win streak that spanned 2011-2013. Maine will also look to do something, which hasn't been down in four years, win in Hartford, Conn. The last time the Black Bears won at Chase Arena was Jan. 23, 2010 when the team took down the Hawks 77-69. 

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 15th in the nation in steals per game with a 2.50 mark.

• Lawton is ranked 39th in the country in total steals with 30. 

• Lawton is also ranked 78th in assists per game averaging 4.8.

• Zarko Valjarevic is nationally ranked in most 3-point categories:

• 3-pointers per game – 35th

• 3-point FG percentage – 32nd

• Total 3-pointers made – 52nd

• Total 3-point Attempts – 95th

• Maine is now 25th in the country in steals per game with 8.6 per contest. 

• Maine is 43rd in the country in the assists per game category with 15.5.

• Black Bears are 50th in Division I basketball in total steals with 112. 

America East Rankings (as of Dec. 28)

• Maine is the No.1 scoring offense in the conference with 77.6 points per game.

• Maine ranks third in the league in field goal percentage with a .451 mark

• Lawton is both 2nd is the AE in assists (4.8) and first in steals (2.5).

• 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 (1.61) and assists per game (4.8)

• Team Quick Hit Rankings: 

• 1st in assists per game (15.5)

• 1st in assist turnover ratio (1.12)

• 1st in steals per game (8.6)

• 1st in 3-pointers per game (7.3)

• 1st in turnover margin (0.1)

• 2nd in fewest turnovers (137)

• 2nd in total steals (112)

THREE KEYS TO VICTORY

The Black Bears started their conference season off with 1-0 record and have turned around a season, in which they started 1-9, having won three of its last four games. Here is how the Black Bears can keep it going

•   Build On Confidence: The Black Bears seem to be gelling at the right time having won two of its last three games. That should have a young team feeling good about itself and that will be a key into parlaying that into more wins. The conference is wide open and if Maine can continue to play with confidence in itself and in the system, the Black Bears should be a formidable test. 

•   Rebound From Poor Rebounding: The Black Bears have had trouble in the paint so far this season. The team went from having strength in its bigs last year, to strength in the guard position. Early in the year the squad's forwards struggled and it showed in the rebounding numbers. The Black Bears have been outrebounded in all but two games this season but in its last win against Binghamton they won the rebounding battle. Maine seems to be getting better in the boards category as well as their rebounding margin has shrunk in the past four games dropping from mid-double-digit figures to now just under 10 at -9.8 per contest. 

•  Maintain Hot Shooting: Now that the Black Bears have gotten through the toughest part of its schedule the playing field should be more level for Maine. When looking at conference numbers the Black Bears currently have the top-offense in the conference, averaging 77.6 points per game while shooting 45.1 percent from the field. Since the Army game back on Dec. 13, the Black Bears haven't shot worse than 44 percent and have averaged 48 percent shooting in its last five games. Likewise the team has averaged 80.2 points in its last five games. 

CONFERENCE DEBUT SUCCESS

The Black Bears opened up conference play last weekend and for the fourth-consecutive year opened with a victory, defeating Binghamton 82-66. The Black Bears, under Woodward are now .500 when it comes to America East debuts, going 5-5 but the squad's recent success has it winning it's last for conference openers.

CONFERENCE CONTENDERS

Maine has been one of the most competitive teams in the conference for the last four years. When breaking down the numbers the Black Bears are one of only three teams currently in the America East conference to have .500-or-better winning percentage in conference games. Coming into this season, Maine has gone 32-32 in that span. The only teams to best the Black Bears in that category are Stony Brook and Vermont which were both 49-15. Recently departed Boston University was also in that conversation with a 46-18 mark. The Black Bears have gotten off to a 1-0 start in America East play in 2013-14. 

TWICE IS NICE!

Dimitry Akanda-Coronel for the second time in as many weeks, was named the America East Player of the Week. In the two games he played he averaged 19 points and eight rebounds while helping the Black Bears go 1-1 and nearly take the Dr. Pepper Classic tournament crown. Against Binghamton the sophomore guard secured the first double-double of his career scoring 14 points and coming down with 10 boards. In the last three games he's averaged 21 points per contest. He had started the season off scoring double-figure points in his first seven games but, before the Dr. Pepper Classic, had been mired in a slump in which he hadn't reached double-digit point totals. Safe to say he's broken out in a big way.  

FROM DOWNTOWN!

If Zarko Valjarevic  were a player in the popular video game NBA Jam, video game enthusiasts would hear the popular call "FROM DOWNTOWN!" an awful lot. The junior from Serbia has made his living from beyond the arc for his career and this season is no different. He is nationally ranked in just about every 3-pointer category including 32nd in three-point field goal percentage and 35th in three-pointers per game. He is also ranked just outside of the top-50 players in the country in total made three-pointers. In the conference he ranks first in all three of those categories. 

LAWTON ORDER LARCENY

Sophomore Shaun Lawton is making a name for himself for his deft thieving nature. Lawton has made his way up to 15th in the country in steals per game and currently averages 2.5 per contest, while he's ranked 39th in the country in total steals. Meanwhile he's also been an assists leader as well ranking 78th in the country in assists. The Harlem, N.Y., native not only is ranked nationally but in the conference is ranked first in both steals categories and is second in assists per game. 

DOUBLE-DOUBLE TROUBLE

The Black Bears haven't had many double-doubles this year but Dimitry Akanda-Coronel put another one on the board against Binghamton last Sunday. Akanda-Coronel scored 14 points and added 10 rebounds for his first and the team's second double-double of the season. Xavier Pollard had the first as he tallied 18 points and 11 rebounds in the team's second meeting against NJIT earlier in the year. It was 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.

FIRST HALF DOMINANCE

The Black Bears this season have struggled with points margin in the first halves of games but in its most recent game against Binghamton the Black Bears recorded its largest points margin against a Division I team this season. Maine outscored the Bearcats, 49-28 for its largest first-half lead since its game against Fisher on Nov. 10. It's also the lowest amount of points that the team has yielded in an opening half to a DI team this season. 

GLASS CLEANERS

In its last game and first conference game of the Black Bears won the rebounding battle for the first time since its victory over NAIA opponent, Fisher on Nov. 10. The Black Bears have been starved for rebounds this year but in its last three games have done a much better job of coming away with the basketball. It culminated in a strong performance against the Bearcats on Sunday when Maine took away 47 boards to Binghamton's 43. 

REBOUNDING RENEGADES 

In its last game against the Bearcats the Black Bears opened the season 1-0 and it was in large part due to their rebounding improvements. In that game Maine had two players record double-figure rebounding totals at Dmitry Akanda-Coronel and Till Gloger came away with 10 boards apiece. That's the first time that has happened since last season, also against the Bearcats, when both Alasdair Fraser and Mike Allison tallied 11 apiece, on Feb. 16, 2013. 

HARD DAYS NIGHT

In what can be filed under the "call it a coincidence" file, the Black Bears' wins have only come in what are classified as day games, meaning any game that is scheduled before the 5 p.m. Maine is currently 3-2 in day games while they are 0-8 when playing games at 5 p.m. or later. The Black Bears will look for its first night game win on Thursday when they play the Hawks at 7 p.m. and improve upon its day game numbers when they play UMBC on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. 

WELCOME BACK KILIAN

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. In his most recent game he set a new career-high in points scoring 17 and leading the team to an 82-66 victory over Binghamton, that performance coming after back-to-back 12-point performances against Middle Tennessee and Chattanooga. He has also grabbed 12 rebounds, averaging 4.0 rebounds a game 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. 



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