It hasn’t been a pretty non-conference season for the America East, in fact on most nights it’s been downright ugly, with teams going down with barely a whimper.
Over the weekend into Monday, however, four unlikely teams helped to stop the bleeding and stem the tide – at least momentarily – as previously scuffling (or outright punching bags) Binghamton registered arguably the best America East win of the non-conference season. Maine picked up its first Division I win over a decent squad and followed it up by nearly winning Dr. Pepper Classic, UMBC avenged a double-digit loss earlier in the year with a 15 point win and Hartford nearly knocked off Pac-12 squad. Even UNH, mired in the midst of a 10-game losing streak, showed some serious signs of life.
Binghamton 67, Bryant 62
On Saturday, Binghamton pulled off the shocker of the season to date, downing visiting Bryant 67-62 for what was arguably the best non-conference win for the entire conference. The Bulldogs arrived in Vestal with an RPI right around 83 and two America East scalps on their belts in the form of a 23 point curb-stomping of preseason AE favorite Vermont and a five point road win at New Hampshire.
Binghamton, conversely, was a team struggling to simply keep its head above water and was fresh off a 28 point loss to an uninspiring Monmouth squad and a 30 point beat-down at the hands of Buffalo. The Bulldogs took the court with a pair of upperclassmen in shooting guard Dyami Starks and power forward Alex Francis, combining to average nearly 40 points per game. The Bearcats were an inexperienced, young team struggling to put together consistent offense.
Yet from the opening tip, Binghamton played with poise, passion and a sense of urgency. With starting freshman point guard Yosef Yacob shelved due to injury, freshman combo guard Marlon Beck II moved onto the ball and flat out dominated it, dishing out a career-high 10 assists, scoring 10 points and swiping four steals while committing just one turnover.
6’3”-ish Sophomore forward Jordan Reed scored 16 points and pulled down a game-high 11 rebounds to help a Bearcats squad that has spent much of the season getting bullied on the low blocks win the rebounding battle against Bryant’s vaunted frontcourt 42-40. After struggling to stop a nosebleed for much of the season, Binghamton also greatly stifled the Bulldogs’ high-powered offense, joining BCS power Notre Dame to hold Bryant under 40 percent from the floor this season.
Most impressive for the Bearcats was the poise and fight they displayed after Bryant cut a large lead all the way down to one in the waning minutes of the game.
As impressive as Binghamton’s win was, it wasn’t the most surprising of the weekend, as the Bearcats have shown talent and energy throughout the season and on Saturday they harnessed it.
Maine 89, Middle Tennessee 85 (OT)
The honor of most outright shocking America East win goes to the University of Maine Black Bears, who knocked of Middle Tennessee 89-85 in overtime. It’s not that Middle Tennessee is particularly good (despite an 8-5 record entering the day, the Blue Raiders hadn’t exactly beaten anyone of consequence), it was more that Maine simply won a Division I game. Moreover, they won it by playing hard as a TEAM until the.
Until the final horn reverberated around the arena, the Black Bears stood at 0-9 against Division I opponents while being outscored on average by more than 20 points a game.
At OBW, we’ve been blunt, biting and harsh in our assessment of Maine’s hoops team this year: Up until Saturday they had been awful. Things didn’t look good when Maine took the floor without starting point guard and current OBW Fab-Five member Xavier Pollard, who has been a revelation as a junior but was forced to miss the weekend due to an ankle sprain
Black Bears sophomore high-flyer Dimitry Akanda-Coronel picked up the slack and was a man possessed, soaring over the Blue Raiders for 27 points and eight rebounds while dishing out four assists.
Junior gunner Zarko Valjarevic had been silent for much of the season but erupted for 20 points, going 7-of-10 from the floor and 4-of-6 from behind the arc. Stepping in to Pollard’s starting spot, sophomore point guard Shaun Lawton scored 12 points and swiped five steals. In his first game of the season after serving an academic suspension for the first semester, 6’7” junior forward Kilian Cato scored 12 points on 4-of-8 shooting, including a big dunk with less than two minutes remaining to force overtime.
Washington 73, Hartford 67
Let’s get this out of the way: Washington looks like a paper tiger. Despite an 8-5 record, the Huskies have beaten no one, while losing to UC Irvine and a Boston College squad that quite possibly wouldn’t finish in the top three in the America East.
With that said, taking a Pac-12 team to the wire on its home court is a very respectable showing and that is exactly what Hartford did. Encouraging for Hartford was a very solid defensive performance against a bigger, faster, stronger Huskies squad, holding Washington to 44.4 percent from the floor and 33.3 percent from behind the arc.
Also encouraging was Hartford’s fight on the glass, as the Hawks, who lose the rebounding battle most nights, fought Washington to a draw on the boards 23-23. Equally encouraging was the play of junior forward Nate Sikma, who finally began attacking the hoop instead of settling for 3’s, scoring 16 points.
And, of course, there was the play of Mark Nwakamma. The junior power forward was the best player on the floor, scoring 21 points on 8-of-10 shooting, including 2-of-2 from behind the arc, before fouling out. Fouls have been a recurrent theme for Nwakamma throughout his career, but we’ll cut him a little slack considering he was the Hawks lone low-post presence against a BCS front line.
For all the positives, a large reason why the Hawks kept the game close was drilling 50 percent of their shots from behind the arc (9-of-18). There’s nothing wrong with such a performance, and, frankly, when the Hawks are on from downtown they can beat anyone in the league.
However, the question remains unanswered as to weather they can win when their shots aren’t falling – a scenario that tends to play out during the first weekend in March.
The game also featured the “WTF” moment of the season to date for the America East, with Hartford defensive stopper Corban Wroe not only picking up a silly foul with 5:01 remaining and the Hawks trailing by one, 58-57, but subsequently picking up a tech, to give Washington four shots and turn a one possession game into a two possession one.
UMBC 63, Navy 48
Earlier this year, a young Retrievers squad struggling through growing pains lost by 15 to the super physical Midshipmen. They say experience is the best teacher and apparently while the Retrievers lost their first game they didn’t lose the lesson, responding with a 15 point win in their rematch.
All season long the Retrievers haven’t been able to hit water if they fell out of a boat, and unable to attack even the most basic zone defense.
On Monday, the Retrievers found their shooting stroke and busted the zone, knocking down 10-of-22 3’s (45.5 percent) en route to a 15 point win. Freshmen guards Rodney Elliot and Bryan Harris combined for 35 points, with Elliot pouring in 21 and Harris scoring all 14 of his in 16 minutes of action. Elliot, a dynamic point guard, drilled 4-of-5 3’s and 8-of-12 shots, while Harris did his damage attacking the hoop and getting to the line.
The Retrievers went into the intermission trailing 21-20, but outscored Navy 43-27 in the second stanza. First year JUCO forward Davarick Houston ripped down 12 rebounds to help UMBC post a 40-31 advantage on the glass and UMBC held the Midshipmen to just 30.5 percent from the floor. Defense, rebounding, and sparkling guard play were all positive signs for a young Retrievers program at the bottom of a ground up rebuild.
UMBC’s three non-conference Division I wins are the most for the program since the 2008-2009 season.
Towson 72, New Hampshire 64
The Wildcats have looked pretty awful over the last two weeks. But while they remain mired in a 10 game losing streak, New Hampshire showed some positive signs battling a powerhouse Tigers team to the wire.
New Hampshire’s performance was particularly encouraging considering it was their sixth game in a row without their best player in 6’10” senior center Chris Pelcher, who was averaging a double-double before being lost to a lower-leg injury.
Senior wing Patrick Konan paced the Wildcats with 25 points, eight rebounds and three assists to just two turnovers, returning to his stellar form of earlier in the year. Sophomore forward Frank Okeke chipped in 13 points and senior point guard Jordan Bronner chipped in 12.
Most encouraging was the Wildcats effort, which had been lethargic as of late. UNH played with fire and heart, as evidenced by their 36-33 advantage on the glass despite Towson center Jerrelle Benimon’s 24 point 14 rebound performance.
As has been the case throughout their losing streak, UNH fell behind big early, and trailed 26-14 with a little more than six minutes remaining in the first half. But the Wildcats got up off the matt and rattled off a 12-3 run. New Hampshire kept punching in the second half and led by two with under seven minutes remaining in the game before Benimon put the Tigers on his back to carry them past the Wildcats.
Chattanooga 86, Maine 80
A few things need to be put in perspective. Chattanooga now stands at 6-8 on the season, but three of their wins have come over non-Division I schools, a fourth came over a 4-12 IUPIU squad and of course, there was Monday’s win over a Maine squad that now stands at 1-10 against Division I opponents.
Point being Chattanooga isn’t good. Maine still isn’t rebounding and still can’t stop a nosebleed on defense.
However, this game bears mentioning because of the continued stellar play of Dimitry Akanda-Coronel, who followed up a 27 point explosion the night before with 24 points and six rebounds, including shooting 5-of-7 from behind the arc. Shaun Latwon filled in admirably for Xavier Pollard for the second day in a row, dishing out nine assists while scoring 10 points and Kilian Cato posted 12 points on back-to-back days.