The Maine men's basketball team finishes up a three-game home stand on Thursday night as the team hosts, Division I and America East newcomer, UMass-Lowell, at the Cross Insurance Center. The Black Bears look to snap a four-game losing streak and win its first game at home since Jan. 5 against Binghamton, when they play the River Hawks at 7 p.m.
LAST TIME OUT
Ethan Mackey crushed his former career-high in points, scoring 24 against the Great Danes, but Albany's Gary Johnson dominated in the paint as Maine fell, 85-78 in Memorial Gym, Saturday afternoon. With the loss Maine falls to 3-14 and 1-4 in conference while Albany snaps a two-game losing skid and improves to 9-9 and 3-2 in America East play.
Both the Great Danes and the Black Bears featured players who recorded new career-high in points as Johnson bested his previous high of 16, scoring 28 while Mackey bested his previous point total of 10, with 24.
Mackey was nearly flawless from the field, scoring 11-of-12 and chipped in 2-of-4 from the charity stripe, while Johnson made the Black Bears pay from the line going 10-of-14 in free throw chances. Johnson added nine field goals (9-of-11) to bring his total to 28.
Both team's recorded impressive shooting percentages as Albany edged Maine by one-tenth of a point, 52.8-52.7. The Black Bears also reversed a season-trend, outrebounding the Great Danes, 34-23 in the losing effort.
SCOUTING THE RIVER HAWKS
The River Hawks have been a surprising upstart in America East opening conference play with three-straight wins. UMass Lowell defeated UMBC (59-54), Binghamton (71-59), and Albany (70-66, OT) to shoot up the conference standings. The River Hawks suffered their first loss of conference play falling to Stony Brook on Jan. 18 and then losing to Hartford 69-51 earlier in the week to fall to 3-3.
Akeem Williams and Antonio Bivins both pace the UMass Lowell offense, as the two average 14 points per game. Chad Holley is second on the list as he averages 10.9 points per game.
Kerry Weldon takes care of the rebounding duties for the River Hawks as he takes down 5.2 boards per game. Meanwhile Holley dishes out the most assists per game as he is averaging 3.2 helpers per contest.
UMass Lowell maintains a double-figure scoring deficit, as opponents have scored, on average, 70.7 points per game while the River Hawks score 59.6 per contest.
SERIES HISTORY WITH UMASS LOWELL
The Black Bears and River Hawks have a short history to look back on as the two teams have only played twice dating back to the mid-1980's. The first meeting came in the 1984-85 year when the Black Bears defeated UMass Lowell, 86-63. The River Hawks extracted revenge in the 1987-88 season when UMass Lowell defeated Maine in overtime, 75-73.
RANKING THE BLACK BEARS (As of Jan. 19)
• Shaun Lawton is now ranked 47th in the nation in steals per game with a 2.06 mark.
• Lawton is ranked 75th in the country in total steals with 33.
• Lawton is also ranked 87th in assists per game averaging 4.6.
• Zarko Valjarevic is nationally ranked in most 3-point categories:
• 3-pointers per game – 47th
• 3-point FG percentage – 19th
• Total 3-pointers made – 55th
• Maine is now 45th in the country in steals per game with 7.8 per contest.
• Maine is 66th in the country in the assists per game category with 14.6.
• Black Bears are 62nd in Division I basketball in total steals with 132.
America East Rankings
• Maine is the No.1 scoring offense in the conference with 74.9 points per game.
• Lawton is both 2nd in the AE in assists (4.6) and first in steals (2.3).
• Valjarevic is the conference's deadliest 3-point shooter ranking first in 3-pointers per game, 3-point percentage and 3-pointers made.
Team Quick Hit Rankings:
• 1st in assists per game (14.9)
• 1st in total assists (345)
• 1st in 3-pointers per game (7.2)
• 2nd in assist turnover ratio (0.98)
• 2nd in steals per game (7.8)
• 2nd in total steals (132)
• 3rd 3-point field goals per game (6.8)
THREE KEYS TO VICTORY
• Play a full 40 minutes: So far in conference play, Maine has gotten off to a favorable start, taking leads into halftime three out of five games yet only has a 1-4 record to show for it. The Black Bears outscored opponents in those three America East games, 120-94, which leads to a 40-37 per first half average between the Black Bears and its opponents. That number shoots up in the second half as that margin swings to the opponent as conference foes have outscored Maine 131-103 in those three games. Likewise opponents shooting percentages have been held to an average of 40 percent through the first frame in three games while that percentage jumps up to 50 percent in the second frame. That trend holds true throughout the entire season, as Maine has been outscored by only 77 total points, in the first frame while that increases to 116 in the second half. That consistency from half-to-half needs to be there in order to turn the tide.
• Temper Turnovers: To begin the year the Black Bears have been one of the better possession teams in the conference but since hitting conference play the Black Bears have averaged 18 turnovers per contest through five games and has reached the 20+ turnover plateau in two of the last three games The turnover numbers in themselves haven't been the jolting part but opponents turnovers in the last four games have drastically dropped. Against UMBC the Black Bears only forced four giveaways, while against Hartford they only took the ball away nine times. While the Black Bears forced 19 against Vermont, the advantage still was in the Catamounts favor. In its latest game against Albany, Maine lost the turnover battle giving it away 15 times to Albany's 11. Black Bears need to protect the ball better than it has in the past handful of games.
• Did We Mention Rebounding Before?: While its no secret Maine has struggled to come away with boards, the Black Bears need to refocus as the rebound margin has begun to creep back up to double-digits. Maine won the rebounding battle for only the third time this season, against Albany on Saturday, taking down 34 to the Great Danes' 24 boards. While the Black Bears weren't able to come away with the victory that trend needs to continue as two of Maine's three wins have come when patrolling the glass more effectively than its opponents.
For only the third time this season the Black Bears won the rebounding battle, a stat that hasn't been kind so far this year. Maine tallied 34 boards and limited Albany to just 23. Unfortunately the Black Bears weren't able to come away with the victory but the rebounding total is a good sign for a team that has struggled in that category as it shows defensive growth.
ZARKO GOES STREAKING!
So long as nothing unusual happens Zarko Valjarevic is on the cusp of starting his 20th straight start and playing his 30th straight game against UMass Lowell on Thursday. Valjarevic's streak is currently the longest starting and playing streak on the team. Dimitry Akanda-Coronel is second in line as he has started 11-straight contests and played in 17-straight games. Ethan Mackey is third on that list as he has played in 16-straight contests.
CLOSING IN ON 500
While junior Xavier Pollard reached the 500 point plateau earlier this year Zarko Valjarevic, Maine's deadliest 3-point shooter, is just 90 away from 500 career points with 9 games remaining. Valjarevic currently averages 12.5 points per game so if he stays healthy he has a shot to hit that mark this year. So far he has scored a career-high 212 points, after registering 185 his sophomore season and 13 in his freshman campaign.
Sophomre Ethan Mackey played against his hometown team on Saturday afternoon and gave the Great Danes something to think about. The Voorheesville, N.Y., native (which is just outside of Albany, N.Y.) scored a career-high 24 points against Albany. He bested his previous career-high 10, which he also recorded this year against Geroge Washington (Nov. 19). Mackey has set new career highs in every category this year as he received ample playing time. Mackey also took down seven rebounds, one block and one steal in the game.
The Black Bears have been one of the better possession teams in the conference for most of the year but in its last five games in conference the Black Bears have begun to turn the ball over at an alarming rate. The Black Bears have turned it over 88 times, an average of 17 giveaways. While that number isn't necessarily scary, they've only forced 43 turnovers, which average out to 8.6 through those three games. The Black Bears need to reverse that trend if they want to contend in America East.
LONG RANGE THREAT
Zarko Valjarevic continues to rank prominently on the national stage when it comes to 3-pointers. The junior from Serbia has made his living from beyond the arc for his career and this season is no different. Coming into the week he was nationally ranked in just about every 3-pointer category including 19th in three-point field goal percentage and 47th in three-pointers per game. He is also ranked 55th in the country in total made three-pointers. In the conference he ranks first in all three of those categories.
Maine Men's Basketball Hosts America East Newcomer UMass Lowell