ORONO, Maine — Ethan Mackey played a total of three minutes last season for the University of Maine men’s basketball team.
On Saturday, the sophomore was the Black Bears’ most effective frontcourt player.
Mackey was almost unstoppable, scoring a career-best 24 points in UMaine’s 85-78 America East loss to Vermont at Memorial Gym.
The 6-foot-7 forward went 11 for 12 from the floor, scoring most of his points from within six feet of the basket, to provide coach Ted Woodward’s club (3-14, 1-4 AE) with a potent post presence.
“The guards did a really good job of getting me open,” said Mackey, who is a nonscholarship player for the third consecutive season. “They would drive to the hole and a guy would go help and they’d dish off to me and I would have an easy layup.”
Mackey, a left-handed shooter, spent his first two seasons on the sideline watching and learning. As a freshman during the 2011-2012 season, he was sidelined after having knee surgery.
He spent last winter rounding back into shape while gaining some experience practicing against veterans such as Alasdair Fraser and Mike Allison.
“He plays with so much energy. He doesn’t take a play off,” Woodward said. “He’s a guy that goes after that [loose] ball. He gives the extra effort.”
Mackey has appeared in all 17 games this season for UMaine, averaging 5.0 points and 4.2 rebounds in 15.6 minutes per contest. He has started six times.
On Saturday, he also smashed his career high while playing 35 minutes. Mackey contributed one steal and a blocked shot and committed only one turnover.
He provides a bit of experience among a corps of forwards that includes sophomore Till Gloger and freshman Christian Ejiga.
“He hasn’t played much, but he’s our oldest frontcourt guy,” Woodward said. “You can see that come to the forefront. His confidence continues to grow and I think that’s going to be huge for us moving forward.”
Zoned in on Zarko
UMaine’s most recent opponents have gone into games focused in on an important defensive assignment.
Both Vermont coach John Becker and Albany head coach Will Brown were concerned about containing Black Bears sharpshooter Zarko Valjarevic.
The junior has been an important catalyst for UMaine, which features the top-scoring offense in the conference at 74.9 points per game. Valjarevic has provided a potent presence from the perimeter, shooting 45 percent (46 for 103) from beyond the arc.
Valjarevic, who is averaging 2.7 3-pointers per contest, has not been able to build on his numbers during the past two games.
On Saturday, Valjarevic logged 25 minutes and went 2 for 5 from the field, including 1 of 4 from 3-point range.
“We committed to not letting Zarko get shots off, period,” Brown said. “I think when he shoots it well, they’re good and they’re hard to guard.”
In Thursday’s 83-46 loss to Vermont at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, Valjarevic attempted only one shot, from inside the 3-point arc, and wound up committing four turnovers in 23 minutes.
“We wanted to key in on Zarko, run him off the 3-point line,” Becker said. “He didn’t get off a 3 [Thursday], which was a really good job by our team.”
In his previous three games, Valjarevic had averaged 16.3 points while shooting 11 for 20 (55 percent) from long range.
UMaine will try to end a four-game skid Thursday with a 7 p.m. America East game against UMass Lowell at the Cross Insurance Center.