When I asked head coach Chris Markwood postgame to choose one word that described his team’s performance, he chose “connected.”
After forcing 11 first-half turnovers and outright running away with the game en route to a commanding 84-49 victory, that seems like one of the more fitting choices available. On Saturday, the Black Bears welcomed the UMBC Retrievers to Orono for an in-conference matchup against one of the more successful teams in America East history. Sitting directly next to each other in the current table and with a slew of tough America East opposition scheduled in the coming weeks, the game appeared to be one of fair importance.
Maine looked locked in from tip-off to the final buzzer, answering a fortunate UMBC opening layup by way of a confident three off the hands of fourth-year guard Ja’Shonte Wright-McLeish. Graduate student Craig Beaudoin II answered with a bucket of his own to reclaim a one-point lead before third-year forward Ata Turgut got open and converted on an easy finish under the rim. UMBC’s big man, fourth-year Yaw Obeng-Mensah, got to work throwing his body around down low and took the lead back for his side. Unfortunately for Obeng-Mensah and team, this would be the final time the Retrievers held the lead for the remainder of the day.
While head coach Jim Ferry’s team made it to Orono ready to play, it seemed like there was only enough energy for the first few minutes of the half. After a few UMBC turnovers courtesy of heads–up work by both Wright-McLeish and the NCAA’s leader in steals, second-year guard Kellen Tynes, the Black Bears had carved out a delightful twelve–point lead at halftime. Tynes wrangled in four steals, a massive contribution toward the team’s aforementioned 11 total forced turnovers in the first frame.
Somehow, the University of Maine came out looking even better than they had in the first 20 minutes of action. The Black Bears fired off an unreal 22-2 run that pushed the score to 60-28 with about 12 minutes of action still to go. Fifth-year guard Gedi Juozapaitis was the de facto offensive spark plug that carried his side through the run, draining two threes and saving a would-be turnover that resulted in yet another three for Markwood’s group. In part, these efforts helped the London native drop a team-leading 22 points on a blistering 75% field goal percentage while going 4-7 from three as well.
Third-year forward Peter Filipovity took over a majority of the offensive workload in the tail end of the game, making a mark for himself in and around the hoop. At one point, Filipovity scored four straight buckets for the Black Bears, including a shot in which he was fouled and shoved to the ground before flexing as the ball fell through the twine. The Hungary native quietly put together a formidable stat line, earning a double-double thanks to his 12 points and 10 rebounds in just over 20 minutes of action. Shortly after Filipovity’s heroics, the Black Bears were able to walk away confidently with an 84-49 victory on their home floor.
“He’s just a unique guy,” Markwood said about Tynes and his five-steal performance. “He’s got a nose for the ball, and it kinda leads our defense. He wasn’t just reaching on the ball and getting steals, it was within our system. It’s a huge energy-giver for us.” Tynes’ 71 steals and 3.09 steals per game are leading the nation, and have been playing a major role in helping this Black Bear group find a true identity.
With a tough slate of America East matchups in the coming week, including a midweek matchup against the conference-leading and defending America East champions, the Vermont Catamounts, staying focused is of utmost importance for the group. “Vermont’s great; they’ve been playing great basketball, they’re finally healthy, they’re really starting to roll in the league. It’s gonna take another high-level collective effort to get a home win against them; they’re not gonna give it to you, you’re gonna have to go and take it,” Markwood said.
The Black Bears will take the court again this Wednesday night at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor as they play host to UVM at 7 p.m.