Highlights — Maine men’s basketball shows toughness, finds way to win

For the most part, Bob Walsh’s inaugural season at the Maine men’s basketball helm has been one of losses and moral victories – except Walsh doesn’t believe in moral victories.

Time and time again during their first 23 games – 21 of them losses – the Black Bears had found way to fall apart in the second half. And for much of Saturday afternoon, it looked like it would be more of the same, as Maine found a way to almost completely blow a 13-point halftime lead and 12-point advantage with 8:01 to go.

But unlike most of the year, the Black Bears dug down deep and found a way – thanks in part to a veteran-type big plays from diminutive freshman guard Kevin Little – to hang on and pull out a 67-64 win over visiting Binghamton.

“We knew they were going to try to turn up the level of intensity, they did it at their place and we didn’t respond that well,” said Walsh, whose team led the Bearcats by one at the half, only to get outscored by 20 in the second half the first time the two teams met.

“When things start to go poorly for you in the second half, you’re trying to find a way to dig your way out of it,” said Walsh.

Little scored 21-points, the biggest coming with 41 seconds left and the Bearcats trailing 58-57. Little a kick out off of a baseline drive from junior guard Shaun Lawton at the top of the key and didn’t hesitate for a second, burying a deep three to push the lead back to four.

“Confidence comes from Shaun and everybody else constantly driving and kicking it to me, that they believe in me,” said Little who has scored in double figures in the last six games he has played, including 20 or more points in three of his last four.

“Have you seen this guy play before?” laughed Latwon when asked about Little not hesitating to take the big shot.

For Walsh, never one to search for silver linings, the Black Bears ability to hang on for a win in a similar situation to numerous prior losses was a big step in the right direction for his team.

“It shows, it shows a lot about this group,” said Walsh after the game.

OBW America East Power Rankings v10

Evan Singletary has blossomed into a go-to star for Albany. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
Evan Singletary has blossomed into a go-to star for Albany. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

With seven games left in the regular season, and a full two game lead over second-place Vermont, the America East regular season title – and coveted home court advantage throughout the new conference playoff format — is officially Albany’s to lose. The Great Danes have been nothing short of remarkable since conference play started, knocking off all of the next five teams below them in the standings on the road.

That alone has been truly remarkable, but considering that Albany has won the last five games without their leading scorer and arguably their best player Peter Hooley, who returned to Australia to be by his mother’s side as she valiantly fought cancer before passing away on Friday, defies words.

After Albany, it’s a dogfight for the next three spots in the standings – a top four finish guaranteeing a first round home game in the America East playoffs.

So without further ado, here’s a look around the league at the latest OBW America East Power Rankings.

1. Albany (14-7, 9-0 in AE)
Results: W 47-44 at Vermont; W 77-59 at Maine
This Week: Wednesday vs New Hampshire; Saturday vs UMass Lowell.
You would be hard pressed to find a team in the country that has been dealing with more adversity – on and especially off the court – than Albany, which has played six of its first nine league contests on the road, including games against the next five top teams in the standings, and come out on top every time. Couple that with the far larger life and death issues that team co-captain Peter Hooley and his family were facing a world away – and the passing of Hooley’s mother, Sue, on Friday – and Albany’s run to 9-0 in league play is one of the most remarkable and inspiring in league history.

In Hooley’s absence, point guard Evan Singletary has emerged as a dynamic scorer and star, capable of putting points on the board in bunches and hitting the big shot, including the game-winning 3-pointer against Vermont. Sam Rowley continues to play like a First Team All-Conference forward in the low blocks, and freshman Wheeler Baker may have forced his way permanently into the rotation with his hot shooting.

2. New Hampshire (12-9, 6-3 in AE)
Results: W 63-58 at Maine; W 63-48 vs Stony Brook.
This Week: Wednesday at Albany; Saturday vs UMBC.
We have never had the Wildcats this high in our Power Rankings this late in the season, but this team truly looks legit. New Hampshire is defending the way Bill Herrion teams are supposed to – ferociously – and, unlike any previous incarnate, they can score the ball – it may be ugly at times, but they can score. Freshman forward Tanner Leissner is making a strong case to be considered not simply for All-Rookie honors (he should be a lock for those) but First Team All-Conference honors, scoring from all over the court at an increasingly efficient clip. Red-shirt senior shooting guard Matt Miller, playing in his first year of Division I hoops, has emerged as the conference’s best long range shooter, and combined with Daniel Dion finally gives Herrion legitimate floor spacing shooters from behind the arc. New Hampshire has benefitted a bit from playing the top of the league at home, and they may drop back down a bit in the standings as they go on the road in the second half of the AE slate, but they appear to be a legit Top-4 team. And the way they defend the ball, I don’t think anyone is going to want to play them in March.

3. Vermont (12-10, 7-2 AE)
Results: L 47-44 vs Albany; W 65-46 at Hartford
This week: Tuesday vs Maine; Saturday at Stony Brook
Vermont dropped another spot in our rankings, but, honestly, there’s no reason anyone should be disappointed with the Catamounts: This was supposed to be a rebuilding year after graduating six seniors. Instead, Vermont looks primed to make another run at the NCAAs. The Catamounts are getting scoring from across their roster, and showed just how good they can be by beating Hartford behind an incredibly balanced offensive attack in which eight players scored – among them a monster game from back-up freshman point guard Cam Ward, who pulled down 13 rebounds to go with eight points. But the Cats’ are showing signs of freshman fatigue, and will need to get more consistency from their upper class frontcourt of Ethan O’Day and Hector Harold if they are going to punch through to the NCAAs.

4. Stony Brook (15-9, 6-3 in AE)
Results: W 72-66 vs Hartford; L 63-48 at New Hampshire
This Week: Saturday vs Vermont
OK Seawolves fans, It is officially time to be worried about Stony Brook’s prospects this year. No matter how good junior center Jameel Warney is – and the 6’8” 260-pound behemoth is as good as it gets at this level – he simply can not do it alone, and right now, he’s the only player giving Stony Brook consistent production. Freshman point guard Carson Puriefoy has been erratic at best and junior forward Rayshaun McGrew seems to have hit a wall. Unless Puriefoy and McGrew can find a second wind, or the Seawolves freshmen can find a second gear down the stretch, Stony Brook is going to be an underdog (albeit not a major one) to go to the big dance.

5. Hartford (11-11, 4-5 AE)
Results: L 72-66 at Stony Brook; L 65-46 vs Vermont
This week: Tuesday at Binghamton
Seawolves fans should be concerned, but Hartford supporters should be in full-fledged freak-out mode. As we’ve said all along, when the Hawks are running their offense through star senior Mark Nwakamma, senior Corban Wroe is getting to the rim, and the entire team is knocking down open threes, they can beat anyone. The problem is – aside from Wroe’s growth – they are the exact same team they were two years ago, when they were bested by sixth-seed UMBC in the America East Tournament quarterfinals, and they are absolutely no better than last year’s squad, which was beaten thoroughly by Stony Brook in the tournament semis. Even at full strength, Hartford’s game plan relies far too heavily on outside shooting – far too unreliable to count on to win three straight games in March to go to the NCAAs. Far scarier, however, is that this team may not be at full strength, as Nwakamma went down with a leg injury against Vermont and was in a considerable amount of pain. Word is that the Hawks are hoping it is simply a bone bruise or sprain, but that there is serious concern that he tore a ligament in his knee. Without Nwakamma, Hartford flat out can not get to the NCAAs – and with six seniors on the roster, its now or back to square one for head coach John Gallagher.

6. Binghamton (4-20, 3-6 in AE)
Results: W 68-56 at UMBC; W 76-69 vs UMass Lowell
This Week: Tuesday vs Hartford; Saturday at Maine
They say it’s always darkest just before the darn, and things sure were pitch-black at the beginning of January for Binghamton, which had lost former star Jordan Reed on top of losing 14 straight games in a row. One month later, and there is again light at the end of the tunnel for the Bearcats, who have won back-to-back games while also competing as equals against the likes of New Hampshire, Stony Brook, and even for a little more than a half against Vermont. Freshman Willie Rodriguez appears to have turned the corner and is looking like the do-everything All-Rookie type performer he was billed as, fellow freshman Justin McFadden is doing a bit of everything, and freshman forward Bobby Ahearn, who was supposed to just be a body, has given the Bearcats toughness and a scoring punch on the low blocks.

7. UMass Lowell (9-13, 3-6 in AE)
Results: L 76-69 at Binghamton
This Week: Thursday vs UMBC; Saturday at Albany
After consistently out-performing expectations all season long, the River Hawks have hit a bit of a wall, losing five straight. The struggles are to be expected for a team that has nine new faces on its roster, and a team counting on freshmen to carry almost its entire scoring load – let alone a team in just its second year of Division I hoops. Red-shirt freshman forward Jahad Thomas continues to be a man among boys, and a giant among post players despite standing just 6’2”, shrugging off double and triple teams to score at a outstanding rate while also attacking the boards, making pinpoint passes and making all the little plays. Freshmen Matt Harris, Brad Schaub and Lance Crawford are all making strides on the court and showing growth, and the quartet of young, impact players make for an incredibly bright future along the Merrimack River. However, in the here and now, Lowell is quite possibly the smallest team in all of Division I and without a reliable second scoring option next to Thomas, the River Hawks will struggle.

8. Maine (2-20, 1-8 in AE)
Results: L 63-58 vs New Hampshire; L 77-59 vs Albany
This Week: Tuesday at Vermont; Saturday vs Binghamton
The record might not reflect it, but Maine has made some big strides as of late and the Black Bears have climbed out of the OBW Power Rankings basement. Undermanned and outgunned virtually every night they take the floor, Maine is playing hard and competing until the final horn. Freshmen guards Aaron Calixte and Kevin Little have looked darn good (although Little has missed considerable time due to injuries and other circumstances). And Maine’s four guard lineup, with Shaun Lawton playing the power forward position, is a tough matchup for opponents.

9. UMBC (3-18, 1-7 in AE)
Results: L 68-56 vs Binghamton
This week: Thursday at UMass Lowell; Saturday at New Hampshire
UMBC falls to the bottom of our Power Rankings, but through no fault of their players or staff. The Retrievers – the most undermanned team in the entire league — have fought the incredibly admirable fight all season long, finding ways to compete every night despite dressing just six scholarship players and eight total bodies. But with the loss of graduate transfer Wayne Sparrow, the team’s do-everything shooting guard and leading scorer, UMBC has been reduced to just seven bodies and five scholarship players.

OBW America East Player of the Week
Evan Singletary, Jr., G, Albany

Singletary’s 13th and final points at Vermont came on his game-winning 3-pointer in a 47-44 win. The Baltimore native followed that up by tying his career-high with 21 points in a romp at Maine. Singletary added 12 rebounds and nine assists over the two games.

OBW America East Rookie of the Week
Tanner Leissner, F, New Hampshire

The longer the season goes, the better Leissner gets, and the better that Leissner gets, the more legit the Wildcats continue to look. The 6’8” Texan notched a pair of double-doubles in back-to-back New Hampshire wins, posting 11 points and 12 rebounds at Maine, and coming up huge with 19 and 11 in a beat-down of Stony Brook.

OBW America East Fab Five
*Peter Hooley, R-Jr., G, Albany
Sam Rowley, Sr., F, Albany
Evan Singletary, Jr., G, Albany
Jahad Thomas, R-Fr., F, UMass Lowell
Jameel Warney, Jr., C, Stony Brook
Dre Wills, Soph., G, Vermont

*Peter Hooley has missed the past four games after taking an indefinite leave of absence from Albany to be with his mother, Sue, who passed away on Friday. During his absence Hooley is not an “active” member of the Fab Five, but his play up until his leave was stellar and he had entrenched himself on the team, thus we feel he still deserves to be recognized.

OBW America East Frosh Five
Jourdan Grant, G, UMBC
Trae Bell-Haynes, G, Vermont
Tanner Leissner, F, New Hampshire
Willie Rodriguez, F, Binghamton
Jahad Thomas, F, UMass Lowell

Video — Maine men’s basketball falls to Albany 77-59

Another game, and another tough, hard-fought loss for Maine men’s basketball head coach Bob Walsh and his Black Bears, who fell 77-59 to first place Albany on Saturday, dropping to 2-20 on the season and 1-8 in conference play.

For Walsh, it was the same story as most of the previous losses: An inability to play consistent defense for 40 minutes.

“When they shoot 68 percent there aren’t many rebounds where your team is in good position to get them,” said Walsh of Albany’s second-half shooting performance, which turned a 44-44 tie with 11:39 remaining into an Albany romp. “The game switched when they started throwing in 3-points on every possession.”

Maine was led by freshman point guard Aaron Calixte, who scored 15-points on 6-of-8 shooting, to go with seven assists and three rebounds in 31 minute of action. Three other Black Bears broke double figures, with senior Zarko Valjarevic scoring 11 points, and juniors Till Gloger and Shaun Lawton adding 10 points apiece. Gloger, a 6’8” center, added eight rebounds and Lawton, a 6’5” junior point guard-turned forward added five assists.

“We actually attacked their zone pretty well. We got it inside, we got good looks, we shot 54 percent in the second half, we made five 3’s. I’m not sure how we’re going to do much better offensively,” said Walsh, who was satisfied with the Black Bears offense, which shot 48.9 percent from the floor (23-of-47) and 42.9 percent from behind the arc (9-of-21).

It was the defense, once again, that proved to be Maine’s downfall, allowing the Great Danes to shoot 55.4 percent from the floor (31-of-56) and an even 50 percent from downtown (10-of-20).

“They were throwing three on the board every time down, it’s hard to keep up with that,” said Walsh. “We shot 49 percent for the game, we made nine 3’s, we had 18 assists on 23 baskets, we had more assists than turnovers.

“You can win with that, no doubt, but you can’t sustain success if that’s all you’re counting on, and right now, that’s all we’re counting on.”

The Black Bears continued to be hampered – arguably haunted – by a sheer lack of serviceable bodies, as sophomore forward Marko Pirovic – a starter at the beginning of the season – missed his eighth game in a row, and 13th out of the last 14, with a foot injury and appears headed for a red-shirt season. The Black Bears were also without the services of starting forward Garret Beal, who has missed time with an assortment of injuries, among them post concussion issues, and explosive freshman shooting guard Kevin Little, who had to attend a family situation, according to Walsh.

The sheer lack of bodies forced Walsh to play just eight players, with five – Valjarevic, Gloger, Lawton, Calixted and Troy Reid-Knight – logging 31 or more minutes.

“It’s a challenge, but when you just tell them, ‘don’t foul, you’re not coming out,’ and ‘don’t look at me if you get tired,’ it’s kind of not that much of a challenge,” said Walsh of players being forced to spend extended time on the court. “At one point I said, ‘Aaron, are you ok?’ he had two fouls in the first half, he looked tired, he was working hard, and he said, ‘yes,’ and I said, ‘good, because you’re not coming out.’”

Walsh has already carved out a reputation as a coach who absolutely abhors making excuses for poor play, but even he had to admit that having such a short bench has hindered his team.

“I think playing 39 minutes, 33 minutes, 34 minutes – asking guys to do that at the level we want to compete at is hard.”

However, Walsh was steadfast in refusing to shift the focus for the team’s ongoing struggles, saying, “It’s just the 40 minutes. It’s the 40 minutes – being able to do it for 40 minutes. If you compete and play tough and defend for 40 minutes, you’ll have a chance to win every night, and we’re not there.”

Maine freshman Kevin Little misses game to be with family

Kevin Little. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
Kevin Little. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

An already undermanned and overmatched Maine was without it’s most explosive scorer on Saturday afternoon, as the Black Bears took the floor without freshman shooting guard Kevin Little.

“He had a difficult family situation that he had to attend to back home,” said Maine head coach Bob Walsh of the 6-foot scorer after the Black Bears 77-59 loss to first place Albany.

A native of Wyandanch, New York, Little’s freshman season has been marred by injuries, as the Coastal Academy alum missed the entire preseason, and seven of the Black Bears first 16 games due to injury and illness.

Little had struggled to find his footing and adjust to Division I basketball when he was on the floor during the non-conference slate, but appeared to have turned the corner in a big way as of late, scoring 73 points over the past four games, including a career-high 25-points in a win at Hartford on Jan. 25 and 22-points in a close loss against New Hampshire on Wednesday.

Walsh did not go into further detail in regards to what the situation was back home, but said that he was hopeful the guard would return quickly.

“Hopefully he will be back tomorrow, but he had to go home and be with his family for a personal situation,” said Walsh.

Will Brown: Maine men’s basketball making strides in key areas

Albany head coach Will Brown looked across half court towards the Maine bench as the final seconds ticked away at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor early Saturday evening – the final nails in the Black Bears’ coffin in a 77-59 Albany win.

Brown had yanked his starters and emptied his bench several minutes earlier, with Maine’s fate – their 20th loss of the season and 15th loss in the last 16 games – sealed since a 16-0 Albany run that started with a little more than 11 minutes remaining turned a 44-44 tie into a blowout.

But when Brown, the America East’s elder statesman and most successful head coach with four NCAA Tournament appearances under his belt in his 14th years at Albany, looked across half court at Maine men’s basketball first year head coach Bob Walsh, he didn’t see a 20-loss program: he saw hope – and a reminder of exactly where he was 14 years ago.

“Maine’s playing the game the right way. It might not show in wins and losses, but Bob and his staff are doing a great job,” said Brown following the game.

“He’s developing his culture and that’s hard,” explained Brown, who took over the Great Danes on an interim basis halfway through the 2001-2002 season, and experienced three truly terrible seasons before beginning to turn the corner in year four and breaking through to the NCAAs in 2005.

“Fourteen years ago I took over a brand new Division I program and a month in, I was walking home, every night I would walk in the door and tell my wife, ‘somebody’s playing a bad joke on me; this is hard, this is not fun,’” said Brown, whose teams lost a combined 64 games in his first three seasons, and memorably had to finish one contest at Hartford with just four players on the court. “There’s nights when you sit there and you try and reinvent the wheel because you just don’t understand how much time it takes.”

In Brown’s eye’s, despite the Black Bears record, Maine, which is suiting up a skeleton crew roster after massive player defections in each of the previous three off-seasons under the old coaching staff, as well as a rash of injuries to several of the few serviceable players in uniform, is already showing signs of progress.

“Here’s what I’ll say: I think the Maine team we played at home, and the Maine team we played on the road, in my opinion plays really hard for 40 minutes, they sustain it, they sustain that effort for 40 minutes regardless of the score,” said Brown. “I don’t want to speak for coach Walsh or anybody at Maine, but to me, that’s progress, to me they’re making strides, to me, they’re doing a good job. It’s just not easy, it’s not easy building a program – it’s hard.”

According to Brown, while the current Black Bears don’t have many wins to show for their efforts, the team’s effort alone this season already has them in a better place than they were during previous years.

“In my opinion, I think Maine plays hard at both ends of the floor, and I think that’s the biggest difference,” said Brown. “If we jumped on Maine in the past, I think it would be smooth sailing. Tonight, when we jumped on them, I think those guys kept playing and kept playing hard.”

And Brown believes that Walsh and his staff will start to see the culture they are building this year pay off down the road.

“In my opinion playing hard is a skill, and it’s something we have to develop in our players,” said Brown. “If you compete consistently, good things are eventually going to happen. Now you have to do a good job on the recruiting trail, but good things are eventually going to happen.”

Maine men’s basketball highlights versus New Hampshire

It was another loss for Maine men’s basketball on Wednesday night – the 19th of the season compared to just two wins – but for the second game in a row it was big step in the right direction after so many steps backwards.

“You’ve got to give Maine credit defensively with their game plan,” said University of New Hampshire head coach Bill Herrion after his team escaped Maine with a 63-58 win. “They did a great job extending the game.”

For most of the season, the Black Bears have struggled to put together a full 40 minutes of consistent effort and commitment to defense, typically fading fast in the second half.

But hot on the heels of a shocking 70-61 win over what had been a hot Hartford squad that had begun the night in fourth place on Sunday, the Black Bears once again got after it against fourth-place New Hampshire.

An 11-0 New Hampshire run pushed the Wildcats’ lead to 44-34 with 8:04 left – a lead that just weeks ago would have had the Black Bears already headed for the locker room showers – but Maine responded by attacking on both ends of the court, cutting the lead to 58-56 with 23 seconds to go before the Wildcats were able to hang on.

“They went under a lot of the ball-screen stuff that we run. They took our driving lanes away. They fronted the post. It was very hard for us to get it inside to [Tanner] Leissner and [Jacoby] Armstrong,” said Herrion. Arguably the league’s top defensive coach, Herrion added: “They defended us like we haven’t really been defended.”

The story of the night for Maine was the ongoing inspired play of freshman shooting guard Kevin Little, who followed up a career-high 25 points against Hartford with 22 points against the Wildcats. After playing sporadically throughout the season due to injuries, including missing seven of the teams first 16 games, Little has now scored in double figures in four straight contests.

In addition to Little, junior guard Shaun Lawton shined, scoring 12 points to go with six rebounds, three steals and two assists, while spearheading the Black Bears defensive attack.

Kevin Reed’s moment still magical 10 years later

Kevin Reed starred for the University of Maine from 2002-2007.
Kevin Reed starred for the University of Maine from 2002-2007.

Even if you live to be 100, chances are you won’t have a day that compares to the one former Maine Black Bear Kevin Reed had on Jan. 27, 2005 — a day that will forever be etched in Reed’s memory.

“It meant a lot, man,” says Reed reflecting back on the day, 10 years ago, that he scored the 1,000th point of his University of Maine career. It came with his wife, Hannah, sitting in the crowd while celebrating her 21st birthday, and John Zito, one of Reed’s best friends, on the court playing for rival UMBC.

“it was also special because I scored it on my wife’s 21st birthday and in the presence of my good friend John Zito,” says Reed, adding, “[I] actually told my wife that I did it on purpose so I [could] score it on her birthday.”

Only about one in 1,000 high school basketball players will ever set foot on a Division I college court as a player. Far fewer still will so much as sniff 1,000 points at the DI level.

Reed’s odds were even longer.

“To score 1000 at the DI level proved everyone who said it couldn’t be done wrong,” he says.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever coached a kid who had more of a personal transformation over the course of his time from high school to college than Kevin Reed,” reflects former Maine and current La Salle head coach John Giannini. “He was a kid who got absolutely everything out of his time in college after so many people thought we shouldn’t have even taken a chance on him.”

Reed buries a jump-hook over future NBA player Javale McGee
Reed buries a jump-hook over future NBA player Javale McGee

Born in Worcester, a hardscrabble city that at the time was made up predominantly of shuttered mills and back alleys 40 miles west of Boston, Reed’s journey to get to Maine was as long, winding, and unexpected as perhaps any Black Bear in program history.

“He definitely was an unorthodox player who took a very unorthodox route to get there,” says Giannini of Reed, who at somewhere in the neighborhood of 6’1” and 230-pounds of muscle on top of muscle, could light it up from behind the arc, beat up and bully players eight-to-ten inches taller than him in the paint, and lock down the one through five on defense, but didn’t have a true position on the floor.

One of four siblings, among them older brother Keith, a former professional baseball player with the Baltimore Orioles, Reed’s journey included four years of high school ball in complete obscurity at tiny Dennis-Yarmouth High School after his family moved to Cape Cod, and two years of prep school at St. Thomas Moore in Connecticut, where he roomed with Zito, to get his academics in compliance with the NCAA.

“Kevin was a kid who grew as much as any player I’ve ever coached,” says Giannini, who gave Reed one of his only Division I offers even after a standout prep career.

“While I was at prep school, I was told by 2 div 2 schools that I wasn’t good enough to play at their school,” remembers Reed.

Reed can have the last hearty laugh at his doubters detractors now, but at the time, it was the long line of coaches and scouts who said he was too small, too slow, and too heavy to make it at the DI level who fueled the white-hot fire that burned throughout his career.

“It was those comments that increased the size of the chip on my shoulder,” he says.

During his time at Maine, which spanned from 2002-2007 including a red-shirt year with a broken foot as a true senior during the 05-06 season, Reed did it all, literally. His 119 career games rank first all-time in program history, while he also ranks second in career 3-pointers (311), third in steals (119), fourth in points (1,601) and eighth in rebounds (732). An All-Rookie selection in 2003, he earned Second Team All-Conference honors in 2004, 2005 and 2007.

According to former teammates and coaches, Reed’s growth on the court paled in comparison to his growth off it.

“Kevin had a moment about halfway through his freshman year when his mind set completely changed, and he started working twice as hard as everyone else in class and on the court,” remembers former teammate Mark Flavin.

“Kevin was a kid who didn’t look the part of a traditional basketball player – kind of one of those guys who was a power forward with a point guard’s height – but he worked tremendously hard and got every last drop out of his ability,” says Giannini.

“I knew I wasn’t gonna be 6’8, so I worked hard and made the best out of 6’1 3/4”,” says Reed.

During his time in college, Reed married Hannah Socoby, and became a father. He had several successful seasons playing professionally overseas, but chose to hang up his sneakers to be able to devote more time to his family. Now a father of three, Reed is the athletic director and assistant principal at Bangor Christian School and still lives only a few miles away from the University that gave him a chance.

“I took the road less traveled,but still found my way to the destination,” says Reed.

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OBW America East Power Rankings v9

Sam Rowley. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
Sam Rowley. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

You can learn a lot about life by watching small conference college basketball — and, for the most part, you can learn about the very best parts of life. If you’re feeling really down and are desperately in need of some inspiration, you can turn to teams at both the top and the bottom of the America East for a pick-me-up.

Playing without arguably their best player in star Peter Hooley, who returned to Australia to be by his mother’s side as she battles colon cancer, the Albany Great Danes are playing truly inspired basketball, and continue to somehow find a way to not only win, but outright dismantle opponents when they should be struggling.

At the other end of the spectrum, a UMBC squad that only has six scholarship players in uniform, plus two walk-ons, and, by all logic, should have no strength – let alone hope – left, continues to take the floor and fight with everything it has every night. Even further south in our rankings, the Maine Black Bears, downtrodden, discombobulated, and, well, outright awful for the better part of the past four years, and coming off of several brutal losses, dug down deep and found the fortitude to knock of Hartford on the Hawks home court.

Here’s a look at the rest of the league in the latest edition of the One-Bid Wonders America East Power Rankings.

1. Albany (12-7, 7-0 in AE)
Results: W 62-53 at Hartford; W 69-55 vs UMBC
This Week: Wednesday at Vermont; Saturday at Maine.
“You look around the league, and in this conference, if teams lose their best player they don’t win. If Stony Brook lost Warney; they’d be in trouble; if Hartford lost Nwakamma, they’d be in trouble; if Vermont lost O’Day or Wills, they’d be in trouble. Peter Hooley is, in my opinion, the best guard in the league, without him, we should be in big trouble. I don’t know how we’re winning; it isn’t a credit to me, it’s a credit to the kids, they’re going out and finding ways and fighting with a passion I’ve never seen before.”

Albany head coach Will Brown offered the above assessment of his team’s 7-0 start to conference play, the best start to the America East slate in Brown’s 14-year career at Albany, the last three wins coming after Hooley returned to his native Australia to stand by his mother’s side as she fights against colon cancer.

The Great Danes win on the road a week ago at Stony Brook was impressive, but it was also perhaps not entirely unexpected coming on the heels of Hooley’s departure – team’s often get a momentary boost, rallying around tragic and traumatic events. But for the Great Danes to follow it up by downing Hartford convincingly can no longer simply be dismissed as a team running on adrenaline and emotion: Albany is playing some serious basketball right now. Rowley has elevated his game and emerged as a go-to scorer who wants the ball, point guard Evan Singletary continues to make things happen, but it’s role players – like athletic wing Ray Saunders, sharp-shooting forward Dallas Ennema, and big-bodies Richard Peters, Greig Stire and Mike Rowley – who have made the team complete.

2. Vermont (11-9, 6-1 AE)
Results: L 73-68 at New Hampshire; W 61-50 at UMass Lowell
This week: Wednesday vs Albany; Saturday at Hartford
Losing to New Hampshire wasn’t a huge shocker – even during their worst years, the Wildcats have always had a way of being a thorn in Vermont’s side – but the way Vermont lost – missing free-throws, and struggling to open the floor up by posing any threat from behind the arc – was a bit concerning. But only a little bit. Vermont is extremely young, and they aren’t always going to be a well oiled machine. Going in the Catamounts favor: they are young, and don’t seem to have a clue that they are “supposed” to be rebuilding. Vermont’s backcourt continues to make the team go, with Dre Wills turning into an absolute monster – a slam dunking, shot-punching, pick-pocketing monster – and the focal point of the Catamounts on both ends. Junior center Ethan O’Day remains the key to the season: When he can stay out of foul trouble and on the floor, Vermont can beat anyone, but when he’s on the bench, they are vulnerable.

3. Stony Brook (14-8, 5-2 in AE)
Results: W 65-45 at UMass Lowell; W 61-54 at Binghamton
This Week: Wednesday vs Hartford; Saturday at New Hampshire
Stony Brook bounced back from a smackdown at the hands of Albany with two wins over teams they should beat, including an annihilation of a solid River Hawks squad on the road. Against Binghamton point guard Carson Puriefoy seemed to snap out of his slump, erupting for 27-points in a win over Binghamton. On the other hand, even with Puriefoy’s monster game, the Seawolves could never truly put away a Bearcats squad that was at a massive disadvantage in size, depth and experience… not to mention game-ready talent. Center Jameel Warney remains far and away the best player in the league, but just like last year (albeit to a much lesser degree) the 6’8” beast seems to have run into a bit of a wall in conference play, with his numbers taking a dip. Make no mistake, Warney alone, let alone Warney, Puriefoy, and a solid supporting cast makes Stony Brook an automatic contender for the NCAAs, but the Seawolves need consistent play from their roll players.

4. New Hampshire (11-9, 4-3 in AE)
Results: W 73-68 vs Vermont
This Week: Wednesday at Maine; Saturday vs Stony Brook
New Hampshire got a huge win at home against a then undefeated Vermont squad, showing toughness, tenacity, and an ability to win extremely close games in the final minute – all traits absent in Durham during previous years. Freshman forward Tanner Leissner continues to impress as the team’s go to scorer, and with sophomore Jacoby Armstrong finally rounding into form, the Wildcats have arguably their best front court since the days of Chris Brown/Ben Sturgill/Assane Faye/Austin Ganly. But the big difference has come from red-shirt senior Matt Miller, who has been absolutely unconscious from behind the arc in his first year of Division I hoops, giving Bill Herrion a true, go-to shooter for the first time in his entire tenure in Durham. And, of course, there’s still the defense: With guards like Joe Bramanti, Jaleen Smith, Ronnell Jordan and Tommy McDonnell imposing their will on opposing back courts.

5. Hartford (11-9, 4-3 AE)
Results: L 62-53 vs Albany; L 70-61 vs Maine
This week: Wednesday at Stony Brook; Saturday vs Vermont
Hartford beat New Hampshire, the team above them in the rankings, at the last second on the road, and we strong considered keeping the Hawks in fourth. However, they found a way to lose, at home, to Maine… Maine. That Maine team. And not only lose, but lose RESOUNDINGLY. As always, when the Hawks are on – forward Mark Nwakamma is out of foul trouble and getting post touches, and Hartford shooters are knocking down uncontested threes – this team can beat anyone in the league. But it’s such a complex style of play, and one that is extremely hard to consistently execute well.

6. UMass Lowell (9-12, 3-5 in AE)
Results: L 65-45 vs Stony Brook; L 61-50 vs Vermont
This Week: Saturday at Binghamton
Lowell continues to be undersized and overmatched (at least in terms of game-ready talent) every single time they take the court. And yet, nine times out of 10, the River Hawks find a way to compete as equals against teams that, on paper, should be wiping the floor with them. Jahad Thomas continues to be both a marvel and monster on the court, finding ways to help the River Hawks win with his passing, defense, and intangibles now that team’s are keying on him completely as a scorer. While Lowell will struggle to beat any of the teams above them this season, the fact that freshmen like point guard Lance Crawford, shooting guard Matt Harris, and forward Brad Schaub are showing noticeable improvement bodes well for the team’s long-term future.

7. UMBC (3-17, 1-6 in AE)
Results: W 76-59 at Maine; L 69-55 at Albany.
This week: Wednesday vs Binghamton
UMBC is suiting up eight players, only six of them on scholarship. They are without sophomore Rodney Elliot, a First Team All-Conference level talent. They have no business competing against anyone in the league right now. And yet, they’ve given just about everyone they’ve played in the league not named Albany a real game – a pretty remarkable feat that speaks to the team’s heart. Graduate transfer Wayne Sparrow has been a wonder on both ends of the floor, serving as both a go-to scorer and facilitator, senior Devarick Houston has been a terror on defense, and junior forward Cody Joyce is close to unstoppable when he gets the ball in his hands around the rim.

8. Binghamton (2-20, 1-6 in AE)
Results: L 61-54 vs Stony Brook
This Week: Wednesday at UMBC; Saturday vs UMass Lowell
Even with the loss of Jordan Reed, Binghamton remains one of the most athletic – and, arguably, talented, at least in terms of raw talent — teams in the conference. However, they are incredibly young and have also been racked by injuries. Dirty work freshman forward Willie Rodriguez seems to be getting his second wind, wing Romello Walker continues to fly around the court impacting the game at both ends, wing Justin McFadden is starting to show flashes as a high energy defender, and forward Bobby Ahearn has shown signs of being able to score the ball and hold his position in the low blocks.

9. Maine (2-18, 1-6 in AE)
Results: L 76-59 vs UMBC; W 70-61 at Hartford
This Week: Wednesday vs New Hampshire; Saturday vs Albany
Hats off to the Black Bears. Seriously. Entering Sunday, the Black Bears were riding a 13 game losing streak – many of those loses coming in the demoralizing, and perhaps downright embarrassing fashion. It had been several weeks since Maine had simply competed for 40 minutes, or been able to stop a nosebleed on the defensive side of the ball. But the Black Bears found a way against Hartford – or, arguably, freshman shooting guard Kevin Little found a way and took the rest of his teammates along for a ride.

OBW America East Player of the Week
Sam Rowley, Sr., F, Albany

Rowley scored a career-high 22 points to go with eight rebounds, three steals and two blocks while absolutely destroying reigning First Team All-Conference selection Mark Nwakamma in Albany’s 62-53 win at Hartford, and followed it up with 12 points in a win over UMBC.

OBW America East Rookie of the Week
Kevin Little, G, Maine

Little exploded for a career-high 25 points, hitting 8-of-16 shots, including 5-of-10 from behind the arc, to carry Maine to a massively needed road win at Hartford. Earlier in the week, Little scored 15 points in a loss to UMBC.

OBW America East Fab Five
*Peter Hooley, R-Jr., G, Albany
Sam Rowley, Sr., F, Albany
Evan Singletary, Jr., G, Albany
Jahad Thomas, R-Fr., F, UMass Lowell
Jameel Warney, Jr., C, Stony Brook
Dre Wills, Soph., G, Vermont

*Peter Hooley has missed the past three games after taking an indefinite leave of absence from Albany to be with his ailing mother. During his absence Hooley is not an “active” member of the Fab Five, but his play up until his leave was stellar and he had entrenched himself on the team, thus we feel he still deserves to be recognized.

OBW America East Frosh Five
Jourdan Grant, G, UMBC
Trae Bell-Haynes, G, Vermont
Tanner Leissner, F, New Hampshire
Willie Rodriguez, F, Binghamton
Jahad Thomas, F, UMass Lowell

Dr. John Giannini takes a trip down (America East) memory lane

Giannini
La Salle head coach Dr. John Giannini. Courtesy photo / La Salle Athletics

La Salle head coach Dr. John Giannini has experienced the brightest lights of March Madness, leading his Explorers to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament in 2013. But Giannini still vividly remembers his time in the America East, where he cut his teeth as a Division I head coach leading the University of Maine from 1996 to 2004.

And what Giannini has to say about the America East might surprise fans of both high-major and mid-major basketball alike.

“The America East, when I was there, was a really, really strong league. And it was a recruiting league, where you really kind of had to land a couple of extremely good players to win it,” he said, contrasting it against his current Atlantic-10 where, “We were at the point where if you got an Andy Bedard and a Nate Fox, or a Huggy Dye and a Julian Dunkley, you were pretty talented. Frankly the most talented teams in that league won and didn’t get knocked off that much,” said Giannini, referencing Maine’s stars from the late 90s and early 2000s.

When Giannini was first hired as the head coach of Maine, the America East was in the end of a Golden Era of sorts, with Malik Rose having just led Drexel to three straight NCAA Tournaments, culminating in an upset over fifth-seeded Memphis, and heading off to a long career in the NBA. In Rose’s absence, several other young stars were stepping onto center stage, with Boston University, led by forward’s Tunji Awojobi and Joey Beard, grabbing the next league championship, followed by a pair of Delaware titles in 1998 and 1999.

“I often tell the old America East guys that Tunji Awojobi and Joey Beard would be one of the top 5-10 inside combinations in Division I right now, they were that talented,” said Giannini.

Awojobi finished his career as one of five Division I players to register career totals of 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, and 300 blocked shots. He joined a select group composed of Alonzo Mourning (Georgetown), Pervis Ellison (Louisville), Derrick Coleman (Syracuse), and David Robinson (Navy). Beard, a 6’10” top-100 high school recruit who signed with Duke out of high school, transferred to Boston University where he starred for two seasons. Both Beard and Awojobi would go on to play more than a decade apiece in professiona ball.

The torch was then passed from Boston University on to a young coach named Jay Wright, who was leading a resurgent Hofstra squad led by guards Speedy Claxton and Norman Richards. Wright of course would go on to coach Villanova to repeated NCAA Tournaments, including a 2010 run to the Final Four, and Claxton and Richards would go on to play in the NBA, but all three got their starts by leading Hofstra to the NCAA Tournament’s in 2000 and 2001.

Giannini’s Maine teams finished in the top four most years, including a program record 24 wins in 1999-2000 when they were perhaps a broken wrist to star point guard Andy Bedard away from going to the NCAAs,

“Jay Wright and I often debate how our Hofstra and Maine teams would have done against his Final Four and our (La Salle’s) Sweet 16 teams,” said Giannini. “Jay had two NBA players in Norm Richardson and Speedy Claxton. Then you throw in Mike Brey’s great teams at Delaware, Bill Herrion had great teams at Drexel, Dennis Wolff had great teams at Boston University. So you had five borderline high-major teams in the America East at that time.”

In sharp contrast to today’s America East, where on any night seemingly any team can beat any other, according to Giannini, parity was a word that did not exist in the league back in the day.

“At that time, the league was remarkably strong,” Giannini said. “I remember one year that Maine, Hofstra, Boston University, Delaware and Drexel were like a combined 48-2 against the rest of the league.”

Now looking to guide La Salle back to the NCAA Tournament, Giannini’s focus remains on the here and now, but every once in a while he still enjoys looking back on the league where he got his start.

“I really wish I could arrange that matchup between my guys at Maine and my guys at La Salle,” he says. “It would be a hell of a game.”

Video — Maine head coach Bob Walsh: ‘It’s hard to describe how much it hurts.’

Maine head coach Bob Walsh sat down, removed his dark suit jacked, and bared his soul to the small contingent of media sitting in the press conference room at the Cross Center.

“It’s hard to describe how much it hurts, how bad it feels, or what it looks like, quite honestly,” said Walsh, with strong streaks of emotion in his voice before he calmed himself. “It’s hard to describe, it’s unacceptable. The university of Maine, the leadership, the coaches, the students, the supporters, the alums… there’s so much pride in the university of Maine and our team is not coming close to living up to that standard.”

Walsh was speaking after his Black Bears had fallen at home 76-59 to a UMBC squad that entered the game 0-5 in league play, 2-16 on the season, and with just six healthy scholarship players and two walk-ons in uniform.

It was Maine’s 13th straight loss of the season, dropping the Black Bears to 1-18 on the year, and a game that Maine once again could not string together a consistent 40 minutes of fight, or stop a nose bleed on the defensive end.

“I will say this: I have never been where I was at halftime [emotionally],” said Walsh. “Right now, look, I’ve been lucky enough to coach ever since I got out of school. You deal with all sorts of stuff – ups and downs – you learn to handle it, but at halftime of this game, I don’t think I’ve ever been so disappointment in myself or any team that I’ve been a part of.”

And once again, it was a game that Walsh, a first year head coach who inherited a skeleton crew roster of cast-offs and misfits and a program that hasn’t known how to win in nearly a decade, took the brunt of the blame for his team’s performance.

“I’m just thoroughly disappointed in myself,” said Walsh, whose team allowed the visiting Retrievers to shoot 52.9 percent from the floor (27-of-51), including an unheard of 80-percent (16-of-20) in the second half.

“There’s a feeling that if we don’t learn to compete at a high level, consistently, everyday, and we don’t show the fight, toughness, heart, all those intangibles – whatever your favorite word to describe it – that we won’t beat anybody,” said Walsh following the game.

According to Walsh, the problem does not lie with his players, but the coaching staff’s ability to convey their game plan and goals to the group.

“It looked like the opposite of everything that we try and stress to these kids everyday,” he said. “We’ve got really good kids, I’ve got to get the message across, it’s clear I’m not doin that. Leadership isn’t about the message you give, it’s about the message you receive.

“I don’t know what it is…. We talk about it, we try different approaches, we do different things every day to try to get the most out of them and I’m not getting the message across.”

According to Walsh, neither the coaches nor the team are giving up on the season and beginning to look towards next year.

“We won’t stop fighting – I know that. I’ve told our kids from Day 1, it may be hard, it may get difficult, but we will never give up,” said Walsh, who remained in his seat in the media room long after the press conference had come to an end and the reporters had left to file their stories.