Following an offseason where the University of Maine men’s basketball team parted ways with interim head coach Jason “Jai” Steadman, new head coach and former Black Bear Chris Markwood has taken the reins in his own bid to return UMaine to national relevance on the court. The UMaine Black Bears are one of 35 teams in men’s Division I college basketball to have never reached the NCAA March Madness tournament, but with a young and hungry group on the floor for Markwood things certainly look a little brighter this year compared to last.
A slew of transfers headlined by Montana State second-year guard Kellen Tynes are sure to see extended runs of action this upcoming season, as well as new recruits first-years Jaden Clayton and Keelan Steele factoring into the mix handily. Both Clayton and Tynes earned the start for the group’s home opener against UMaine Fort Kent this past Friday. The Black Bears opened their regular season earlier in the week, traveling to Lincoln, Nebraska to take on the Cornhuskers. While Markwood’s side did fall, it wasn’t anywhere near the blowout that Vegas’ lines had predicted.
Though UMaine Fort Kent was able to score the first two baskets of the game on Friday, the Black Bears tied it up in no time after a stellar showing of athleticism from fifth-year guard Gedi Juozapaitis. Blocking a shot on one end the London, England native raced up the court before he was fed a perfect ball that resulted in a smooth three-point basket to put the score at 7-4 with Maine leading.
Once they took the lead back, UMaine refused to let the Bengals back into the game, extending their lead to 28 points by halftime. With a 48-20 deficit staring Fort Kent in the face, the second half did not look to bode any better for the non-conference side.
UMaine came out of the gates swinging, yet had some trouble getting the ball through the bottom of the basket. Second-year forward Kristians Feierbergs, who has looked monumentally more polished than he was last season, inevitably broke the drought when he was sent to the line. His two free throws started yet another Black Bear run, which was followed up by a Juozapaitis layup after his own offensive board only moments later.
Juozapaitis again put his skills on display, finishing off an easy fastbreak bucket following a steal from Tynes on the other end after the initial layup. UMaine was well and truly running away with the game from the moment they had taken the lead onward, but this showing of domination midway through the second half was disheartening for anyone on the court not wearing blue and white.
Utilizing their size, Markwood sent in third-year forwards Peter Filipovity and second-year Milos Nenadic, two of the largest players on the team, to control the paint and boards. The plan worked to perfection with the Bengals unable to penetrate the Great Wall of Black Bears that had been protecting their own paint. The tactic forced Fort Kent into numerous poor jump shots, transitioning into easy Black Bear baskets.
Up until 10 minutes to go in the second half, UMaine had held Fort Kent to less than six second-chance points all game, showcasing their stifling control of the boards once Markwood amplified the size of his unit. On the other end of the floor, size was key in extending their already massive lead even further. A sequence just before the ten-minute mark saw Nenadic make the Bengals forwards look like middle schoolers, dropping the ball in the basket practically thanks to his relative size. Three straight layups that, while contested, were not nearly anywhere within the grasp of any opponent Nenadic sized up in the second half.
The Kitchener, Ontario native’s third and final layup of the game pushed his side’s lead to a commanding 71-33 mark with just above nine minutes still to play. The six points Nenadic registered turned out to be the only tallies of the contest for the big man, while Filipovity paced the Black Bears in scoring as he dropped 17 points in 22 minutes off the bench. On the other bench, first-year guard Jordan Guerrero led the way for the Bengals, starting and scoring 13 points to pair with three steals.
The Black Bears were effortlessly able to retain the lead as time wound down, subbing in three first-year talents in forwards Antonio Lisenbee and Ayme Daguilh, as well as guard Owen Maloney for some extended run in garbage time. Poetically, both Maloney and Lisenbee recorded the first baskets of their college careers to which the Black Bear bench erupted as the final minutes ticked away.
With the buzzer sounding, the Black Bears were able to even their season’s record at 1-1 with a 90-45 victory, as well as hopefully begin the track to recovery after the loss to the University of Nebraska. The men’s basketball team will travel to Boston for a match-up against Markwood’s most recent stop on his coaching tour before Orono, the Boston College Eagles this Monday, Nov. 14. The Black Bears return home to play Columbia University on Friday, Nov. 18, before embarking on a four-game road trip that sees the group taking on Central Connecticut State University, Brown University and Fordham University before traveling internationally to face Marist College in London, England to participate in the inaugural London Basketball Hall of Fame Showcase.