March Madness: The 2014-2015 America East basketball season in dunks

With a the NCAA Tournament dreams dashed for seven of the America East’s nine teams, and a day remaining before the March Madness showdown between bitter rivals Albany and Stony Brook for all the marbles, One-Bid Wonders decided to take a look back at the America East basketball season that was in dunks. Take a look and enjoy — all nine America East teams and quite a few players are represented.

Who was the conference’s best dunker? What was the best dunk of the season? Leave us a comment below.

America East men’s basketball Dunks of 2014-2015 from Samuel Perkins on Vimeo.

March Madness: Sam Perkins and Ryan Restivo break down America East basketball

In anticipation of the America East championship and the start of March Madness, which tips off with top-seed Albany facing three-seed Stony Brook at 11 a.m. Saturday, OBW’s Sam Perkins linked up with Big Apple Buckets’ Ryan Restivo and the America East’s Jared Hager to take a look back a the season that was, before looking ahead to the championship game that will be.

The trio shared a great deal of laughs, as well as insider insight over the course of the night, with topics ranging from their overall impressions and biggest surprises during the regular season; thoughts on the change in the conference’s post season format, from a single-site tournament to a high-seed host playoff; the best game of the post season; and of course, detailed breakdowns and predictions of the big game itself.

Give it a watch and then flame away at Restivo.

OBW Mahamoud Jabbi America East men’s basketball Walk-on of the Year

Named in honor of former Binghamton Bearcat Mahamoud Jabbi, who made Binghamton out of an open tryout, only to go on to become one of the best players in the league.

OBW Mahamoud Jabbi America East men’s basketball Walk-on of the Year Award.
Ben Grace, Soph., G, UMBC

Grace began the season excelling at the normal, garden variety walk-on activities: pregame hand shakes, towel waving, and bringing everything he had in practice. But by the end of the year, The Grace-a-nator (as dubbed by teammate Devarick Houston) had earned time in the starting lineup, where he showed some serious cojones and no fear knocking down contested 3-pointers in games. Grace’s overall numbers, 17 minutes and 3.6 points per game on 35.9 percent shooting from downtown, are darn solid for a walk on, but they’re also deflated by riding the pine for the first half of the year. Grace saved his two best games for Binghamton, scoring 17 points and drilling five 3-pointers each time he faced the Bearcats.

Walk-on Ben Grace.  Photo Credit: Corey Johns
Walk-on Ben Grace. Photo Credit: Corey Johns

Awards — Austin Ganly OBW America East men’s basketball Dunker of the Year

Named in honor of the most awe inspiring and authoritative dunker Sam Perkins has seen come through the America East doors. Sure, a dunk is only worth two points on the scoreboard, but often times, it’s worth so much more.

OBW Austin Ganly America East men’s basketball Dunker of the Year
Devarick Houston, Sr., F, UMBC

Devarick Houston. Courtesy Photo / Gail Burton / UMBC Athletics
Devarick Houston. Courtesy Photo / Gail Burton / UMBC Athletics

This was an incredibly tough choice between Houston and Dre Wills. Wills, shorter by six inches, was perhaps the best leaper in the conference and was fearless getting to the rim and finishing with absolute authority in traffic. Houston, an incredible leaper in his own right, spent year playing up around the top of the square, and finised off alley-oops in Sports Center worthy fashion. In the end, Houston’s sheer volume of dunks proved to be the tie breaker by the slimmest of margins over Wills, who we are sure will grab an OBW Dunker of the Year award or two before his career is over.

Awards — America East men’s basketball All-Conference Second Team

(Credit: Travis Watcher/UMBC Athletics)
(Credit: Travis Watcher/UMBC Athletics)

This was one of the toughest years we’ve had distinguishing between our Second Team All-Conference and our First Team, with 10 truly quality selections. With that being said, here’s a look at the OBW America East men’s basketball Second Team All-Conference

OBW America East Second Team All-Conference
Cody Joyce, Jr., F, UMBC

Despite playing with no reinforcements – and we mean none – in the low post, and facing relentless defensive pressure, Joyce established himself as one of the best front court players in the league, ranking fifth in the league in scoring (13.5 ppg), second in scoring in league play (16.1 ppg), sixth in overall rebounding (5.7 rpg) and fifth in rebounding in conference games (6.4 tpg).

Tanner Leissner, Fr., F, UMass Lowell
Leissner emerged as the Wildcats best player, go to scorer and complete game-changer, ranking sixth in scoring in conference games (13.1 ppg), third in rebounding in conference play (8.5 rpg), sixth in overall scoring (12.8 ppg) and fourth in total rebounds (7.4 rpg), while serving as the focal point of the Wildcats offense.

Ethan O’Day, Jr., F, Vermont
If not for ongoing foul issues, O’Day would likely have been on our First Teamer, as whenever he stayed on the floor he was a complete game changer, ranking Eighth in the league in both overall scoring and scoring in conference games (11.9 and 12.7 ppg, respectively), finishing second in field goal percentage (56.7 percent) second in blocked shots (2.2 bpg) and tied for first in blocks per game (2.3 bpg).

Carson Puriefoy, Jr., G, Stony Brook
Puriefoy had an up and down season overall, but when he was playing well, he was electric, pushing the Seawolves offense, getting to the rim and knocking down tough shots. He ranked fourth in overall scoring (13.9 ppg), fifth in scoring in league play (13.4 ppg), second in assists (3.4 apg), and fourth in assists in AE play (3.4 apg).

Peter Hooley, R-Jr., G, Albany
Hooley missed nine games to be by his mother, Sue’s side during her final days as she fought against colon cancer, but he was a game changer whenever he was on the court, averaging 13.7 points per game and 2.4 assists per game, while shooting a robust 44.1 percent from the floor and 35.5 percent from downtown. He also continues to have the immeasurable “clutch” factor, hitting big shots at big moments.

Awards — OBW America East men’s basketball All-Defensive Team

Jaleen Smith. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
Jaleen Smith. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

Dick Bennett once said, simply but profoundly, “For us to be successful on defense, we must get back and stop the basketball, eliminate easy baskets, keep the ball out of the lane, and bother the shooters.”

Bennett would have been happy with the five members of our OBW America East men’s basketball All-Defensive team, as they have those qualities in spades. Without further ado, here’s a look at our picks for the five best defenders in the “AE”.

OBW America East All-Defensive Team
Devarick Houston, Sr., F, UMBC

Houston, a 6’7” ball of energy and enthusiasm, was one of the best and most versatile defenders the league has seen in a long time, and literally spent time shutting down the 1-through-5 positions throughout the year. Whether it was blocking shots, picking pockets or rebounding the ball, he did it all.

Ray Sanders, Jr., G/F, Albany
An incredibly strong, tough and rugged 6’4” wing, Saunders was one of the most underappreciated players in the league and the unsung hero of the Great Danes, drawing the nightly assignment of covering the opponents best scorer.

Jaleen Smith, Soph., G, New Hampshire
A very long 6’4”, Smith played with tremendous energy and enthusiasm and emerged as arguably the best defender on the best defensive team in the conference, and spent the season running opposing scorers off of the 3-point arc and off the court entirely.

Jameel Warney, Jr., C, Stony Brook
Warney owned the glass, leading the league in defensive rebound both overall (6.9 drpg) and in conference games (7.3 drpg), while also leading the America East in blocked shots in conference play (2.4 bpg) while tying for the overall lead(2.3 bpg).

Dre Wills, Soph., G, Vermont
Wills was a one-man terror with the athleticism of a two-guard, the physicality of a power forward and the tenacity of a Tasmanian devil. Wills absolutely shut down opposing scorers, picked pockets, disrupted passing lanes, and also blocked shots (he ranked fourth in both overall blocks and blocks in conference games) and rebounded the ball (his 4.7 rpg led the Catamounts).

Awards — OBW America East men’s basketball All-Rookie Team

New Hampshire freshman Tanner Leissner. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
New Hampshire freshman Tanner Leissner. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

It was a banner year for America East men’s basketball rookies. In previous years, we had a hard time finding five truly worthy players to fill out an All-Rookie squad. This season, there were another half dozen or so worthy candidates who didn’t make the cut. We admit, we copped out by selecting six frosh for our squad, but every one of them was damn good.

OBW America East men’s basketball All-Rookie Team
Jourdan Grant, G, UMBC
Grant shouldered a huge load all season long for the Retrievers as the teams only ball handler and flourished, leading the league in assists both in conference play (4.2 apg) and overall (4.0 apg) while ranking 19th in scoring in America East games (10.8 ppg).

Trae-Bell Haynes, G, Vermont
Bell-Haynes hit a bit of a wall down the stretch for the Catamounts, but over the course of the season he was completely dynamic as a one-man fast break, ranking second in assists in conference games (4.0 apg) and third overall (3.4 apg), while also shooting nearly 50 percent from the floor.

Tanner Leissner, F, New Hampshire
As a true freshman Leissner established himself as the best and most important player for the best New Hampshire squad to set foot in Ludholm Gymnasium since the mid 90s. Capable of scoring from everywhere on the floor, the 6’7” power forward completely changes the Wildcats offense, ranking sixth in scoring both overall (12.8 ppg) and in league play (13.1 ppg), fourth in overall rebounding (7.4 rpg) and third in rebounding in conference games (8.5 rpg).

Kevin Little, G, Maine
Little missed nine games due to injury, and was gimpy for most of the year, but when he was on the floor, despite often times standing out as the only capable scorer on a depleted Black Bears roster, the dude straight lit it up, ranking third in America East play in scoring at 15.2 points per game (12.5 ppg overall).

Willie Rodriguez, F, Binghamton
Rodriguez is a true America East forward – 6’6”, not particularly athletic, but tough as nails — who finds ways to just get the job done. Rodriguez ranked 11th overall in scoring (11.6 ppg) and eighth overall in rebounding (5.5 rpg), and elevated his game in conference play, ranking eighth in scoring (12.7 ppg) and seventh in rebounding (5.7 rpg).

Jahad Thomas, F, UMass Lowell
Thomas missed the final seven games of the season with a torn ACL, but before he went down he wasn’t simply THE best rookie in the league, he was one of the best players regardless of class. A 6’2” power forward, Thomas bullied players a half a foot or more taller than him while facing double and triple teams (and even the box-1 on more than one occasion) that only Stony Brook star Jameel Warney saw more of, and still finished the year third in overall scoring (14.3 ppg), fifth in rebounds (6.5 rpg), and sixth in field goal percentage (52.3 percent), while also anchoring the River Hawks defense.

Awards — OBW America East men’s basketball All-Dunkers team

Romello Walker. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
Romello Walker. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

The regular season has wrapped up, the seedings are set, and the America East Playoffs start in just three days. That mean’s its time for the annual OBW America East men’s basketball awards, starting off with our All-Rim Wreckers Team honoring the top five in-game dunkers in the league. Sure, dunks only count for two points on the score board, but they can change the emotion and momentum in a game.

Plus, they’re damn fun to watch. So, without further ado:

OBW America East All-Rim Wreckers (Dunkers) Team
Devarick Houston, Sr., F, UMBC

The 6’7” human-pogo stick was dropping out of the rafters all season long for rim-rocking alley-oops.

Romello Walker, Fr., G/F, Binghamton
Walker might be the highest flier in the league, and was a terror when he got out on the fast break.

Jameel Warney, Jr., C, Stony Brook
At 6’8” 260, Warney simply tried to rip the rim off every time he touched the ball with an array of power slams.

Kerry Weldon, F, UMass Lowell
Weldon was the middle ground between the likes of Warney and Houston/Walker, a big time high-flier capable of acrobatics, but also capable of rattling the backboard.

Dre Wills, Soph., G, Vermont
Generously listed at 6’1”, Wills was easily the most fearless dunker in the league, routinely driving the lane to throw down two-handed slams over far larger foes.

UMBC men’s basketball puts it all together to down Maine

By Corey Johns

Special to OBW from SoMuchSportsBaltimore.

Will Darley. Photo Credit: Corey Johns
Will Darley. Photo Credit: Corey Johns

Everything came together for UMBC men’s basketball on a snowy afternoon in Catonsville Saturday. In game being aired nationally on ESPN3, with plenty of alumni and former players in attendence, the Retrievers got everything last ounce out of everybody they to beat Maine 73-66 in the RAC Arena.

All five Retrievers starters reached double-digits, pushing UMBC to nearly 20 points above their 55 points per game average for just its second 70-plus point performance of the year.

Cody Joyce led the Retrievers with 16 points and Malcolm Brent and Will Darley each nailed three 3-pointers in their 15-point efforts.

“We talk about trying to be at our best this time of the year as we try to prepare for the conference tournament and it looks like we’re trying to play our best basketball right now,” UMBC Head Coach Aki Thomas said. “It’s good to see five guys in double figures and consecutive stops in the second half. As the game got close we played the situation well.”

Fighting to stay out of the bottom of the America East basement, neither team ever truly separated itself from the other on the day. Early in the first half, UMBC led by as many as nine points following a three by Brent in a 10-2. But Maine struck back, going on a nine-point run to tie the game with 9:41 remaining in the first half.

Powered by an assault on the glass, and unconscious shooting from freshman Kevin Little, Maine took a nine-point lead with 3:30 left before halftime. Little was 3-for-3 in the first half and the Black Bears out-rebounded the Retrievers 19-9 during that stretch.

But UMBC’s ability to get inside and either finish or draw a foul kept them in the game. A 9-2 run made it just a two-point game before a floating layup by Till Gloger made it a 35-31 Maine advantage at the break.

UMBC was able to keep the game close despite being manhandled on the glass by executing their inside-out offense. The team made five three’s in the first stanza, three of those came from Darley, who going into the game made only six this season.

“You got to be able to shoot the ball,” Thomas said. “It’s nice to say we play inside-out but the ball has to go in. Guys have to honor shooters, that way we can spread the floor and get it inside to Cody.”

And they sure did.

Joyce led the team with 10 field goal attempts and also with six free throw attempts in his effort. And in the second half, Darley and Houston were able to get inside as well. Darley, who missed nearly a month and a half with a knee injury this year, has been coming on strong down the stretch. Darley’s 15 points and six assists were both career-highs, and he also added seven boards to help stem the tide on the glass in the second half.

“It helps having Will Darley out there,” Thomas said. “He’s smart, makes some shots and he was key in a lot of different ways. They did a decent job fronting Cody and trying to take him out of the game but I thought Will and Devarick flashed up to the high post, made some really good entry passes and made some shots.”

Jourdan Grant also contributed in areas he normally doesn’t, as the 6’2” guard ripped down eight rebounds to go along with his 14 points on 5-for-8 shooting and five assists.

The Retrievers shot 59.1-percent from the floor in the second half and made more than twice as many free throws as Maine attempted. They also beat Maine on the boards, 17-15, in the second stanza.

UMBC opened up the second half with back-to-back three’s from Houston and Brent. And after the Black Bears’ defense spread out to defend the perimeter, Joyce followed with a layup inside to give UMBC a 39-35 lead.

With 3:45 remaining, Little hit a fast-break layup off a steal by Aaron Calixte to tie the contests at 57 a piece. But on the next possession Brent missed a three, only to have Darley corral the offensive board and kick it back to Brent for the layup to retake the lead. Darley followed it up with two made free throws following a defensive rebound off a missed jumper by Little a few seconds later.

UMBC did not miss a shot, from the field or the line, for the final 3:23 and converted 10-straight free throws down the stretch.

Houston was the fifth Retriever to reach double digits, scoring 10 points. But where he really shined as on the defensive end., setting a new career-high with five steals while constantly matched up against either Zarko Valjarevic or Little, two of Maine’s biggest offensive threats, and allowed only nine points during the entire game on shots taken against him.

“He can guard anybody,” Thomas said. “We always put him on somebody we feel can blow the game open against us and he never lets us down. It’s great when he can play like that and shut people down. Zarko and those guys are more than capable of blowing the game open.”

UMBC has just two more regular season games remaining on their schedule. On Wednesday they will host Albany in their final home game of the year before traveling to Binghamton for their regular season finale.

America East men’s basketball roundup 2/17/15

The America East men’s basketball Tuesday night lineup saw a pair of preseason America East favorites who had been floundering, badly, heading into the home stretch grab a pair of much needed wins. Here’s a look at the action:

Stony Brook 59 Albany 56
The Seawolves needed this game. Badly. Really, really badly. Star center Jameel Warney scored 20 points, pulled down 11 rebounds and sent five shots packing, junior point guard Carson Puriefoy added 14 – albeit not particularly efficiently – and junior forward Rayshaun McGrew ripped down 14 rebounds for Stony Brook. But the difference maker for the Seawolves was seldom used red-shirt junior Scott King, who tied his season high by scoring 12 points – more points than he had scored in Stony Brook’s last eight games, combined – on 5-of-6 shooting.

“When coach [Pikiell] puts me into the game, he expects me to shoot the ball. When I made the first one, I got into a decent rhythm. I just tried to get some rebounds and bring energy off the bench,” said King of the performance.

Albany saw off shooting nights across the board, hitting just 20-of-58 shots (34.5 percent) from the floor. Sam Rowley and Ray Saunders scored 12 points a piece, Dallas Ennema added 11, and Evan Singletary added eight, but the quartet shot just 15 for 46 from the floor.

The loss snapped Albany’s 13 game winning streak and gave the Great Danes their first conference loss on the year to 12 wins, but it wasn’t particularly unexpected, as the team had won several close games as of late. That, coupled with the emotional homecoming of Peter Hooley after spending nearly a month back home in Australia, to be by his mother’s side before she passed away from colon cancer, perhaps made the Great Danes due for an off night.

On the other side, the Seawolves needed a win badly against a top-four team in the America East, and they needed to win a game exactly like this: By getting contributions from players not named “Jameel Warney.”

With three games left to play and a one-game lead over second place Vermont, the Great Danes remain in the driver’s seat for the regular season title and home court advantage in the conference playoffs, but the Catamounts have been playing arguably the best basketball in the league over the past two weeks and another slip up could see Albany take a drop in the standings.

Hartford 55 UMBC 52
This wasn’t so much a must-win as it was an absolutely, positively, no-bleeping-way can you lose game for the host Hawks, who nearly managed to find a way to fall on their home court to a crippled Retrievers squad.

Sophomore point guard Justin Graham scored 10 points, his fifth straight game in double figures and eighth in his last 11, after going the first 15 games of the season without reaching double-digits, and seniors Wes Cole and Corban Wroe came off the bench to combine for 24 points.

Hartford wasn’t particularly sharp from the floor, hitting 37.5 and 22.7 percent of their shots, but the Retrievers were even worse, hitting just 30.4 and 21.4 percent, respectively.

On another night against another team, you might be able to chalk the Hawks win up to gritty defense, but against a UMBC squad that is suiting up just eight serviceable bodies, only seven of them scholarship players and only a handful legit Division I talents, it’s hard to put much stock in the win from any angle – especially from a senior-laden Hartford squad that was supposed to be competing for an America East title but now sits in fifth place at 6-7 in league play.

For UMBC, this was yet another herculean effort for a team showing more grit, guts and heart than any other in the league. Power forward Cody Joyce scored 17 points and pulled down nine rebounds, senior forward Devarick Houston added 10 points, 10 boards, three steals and two blocks and freshman Malcolm Brent added 13 points.

OBW America East Player of the Night
Jameel Warney, Jr., C, Stony Brook

20 points, 11 rebounds, five blocks, 9-of-18 shooting.

OBW America East Rookie of the Night:
Malcolm Brent, G, UMBC

13 points, 4-of-8 shooting, 2-of-5 three-point shooting, five rebounds

America East Standings
Team conference record (overall record)
1. Albany 12-1 (18-8)
2. Vermont 11-2 (16-10)
3. Stony Brook 9-4 (18-10)
4. New Hampshire 9-4 (16-10)
5. Hartford 6-7 (13-13)
6. UMass Lowell 5-8 (11-15)
7. Binghamton 3-10 (4-24)
8. Maine 2-10 (3-22)
9. UMBC 1-12 (3-23)