There is no question the University of Maine men’s basketball team has demonstrated plenty of offensive punch so far this season.
Where the Black Bears have not been as effective is on defense and in rebounding. Those two areas have been instrumental in UMaine’s three-game losing streak.
Coach Ted Woodward’s team is putting its focus on defense and rebounding going into Thursday’s 7 p.m. America East game against Hartford at Memorial Gym in Orono.
UMaine (8-8, 2-3 AE) looks to stop its three-game skid as it plays the Hawks (3-14, 3-2 AE) to close out a busy stretch of four games in nine days.
“We try to pride ourselves on defense and rebounding and as of right now we’ve gotten away from that,” said senior guard Gerald McLemore. “We’re not concerned. We haven’t hit the panic button.”
The Bears have allowed an average of 77.3 points during the losing streak and rank eighth in league play, giving up 72.6 ppg. UMaine is letting America East opponents shoot 41 percent from the field overall, including a league-worst 44 percent (36 for 82) on 3-pointers.
The Bears are playing good defense most of the time. The key is not suffering any letdowns.
“It’s really just staying focused every possession on defense,” said sophomore center Alasdair Fraser. “We can’t play good defense one possession and then the next possession have a mental lapse and give up a basket.”
UMaine features a strong contingent of perimeter players and has a small corps of post players. That and a three-guard philosophy have contributed to UMaine’s rebounding issues.
Only five times this season have the Bears grabbed more rebounds than their opponents.
Fraser ranks among the league’s top rebounders (7.6 per game in AE play), but Mike Allison and Kilian Cato have been the only other inside presences with Svetoslav Chetinov sidelined by an injury.
That puts pressure on the Bears’ guards to crash the boards, something freshman Justin Edwards (6.0 rpg) has taken to heart.
Even so, UMaine has been susceptible to giving up points because of opponents’ ability to get offensive rebounds and more scoring opportunities.
“If we play a solid possession of defense and then they get a rebound and put back, then all that work was for nothing,” Fraser said of allowing offensive rebounds. “It kills any momentum that we would have been able to get going.”
The Bears’ inconsistent rebounding also has a negative effect on their ability to take advantage of their quick-striking transition attack.
“We’ve got to play better defense, get steals, challenge shots and long rebounds lead to fast-break points and that’s what we plan on doing,” McLemore said.
UMaine can take nothing for granted Thursday night, but Hartford has had its share of struggles with rebounding, checking in with a minus-6.8 margin. The Hawks also rank last in league play with only 6.2 offensive boards per outing.
“We’ve got to hold ourselves accountable and get ready for the next game. That’s what we’re looking forward to,” McLemore said.