Andrew Fleming became the 31st player in University of Maine men’s basketball history to reach 1,000 career points Wednesday.
But his 37-point outburst during the Black Bears’ season-opening 84-64 victory over Merrimack on Wednesday night, while not unique given his career-best 38-point effort at UMass Lowell last season, did come somewhat differently than usual for the former Oxford Hills of South Paris standout.
Fleming was working in tandem with another offensive threat near the basket, as junior Vilgot Larsson spent much of his time near the high post.
The two combined for 10 assists, often to each other after either Fleming or Larsson drew Merrimack’s interior defenders toward him.
“I’m sure I’m going to play in different positions depending on the matchups,” said the 6-foot-8 Larsson, the Stockholm, Sweden, product who spent most of last season facing the basket from the perimeter offensively. “But I feel like working with Andrew, especially in the high and low posts, works good for us and works good for the team.
“It’s something I’ve gotten more comfortable with.”
For Fleming, Larsson’s complementary play created more room for him to work either behind the defense or in one-on-one situations. He finished the night shooting 12 of 18 from the field while also frequently getting fouled. He went 13 for 15 from the free-throw line and grabbed 10 rebounds for coach Richard Barron’s club.
“In the past we haven’t really had two bigs that could shoot the ball at a higher level,” Fleming said. “At times last year we wanted to be able to play us together, but Vilgot during this offseason must have put on 25 pounds in the weight room, and that’s really what I think has gotten him to the position he’s in being able to play inside for us as well as on the perimeter.”
Larsson, who shot 7 of 11 from the field against Merrimack, did not acknowledge the specific weight gain but he did say he added strength during the offseason with an eye toward expanding his game to include work in the lane.
“It’s something I hadn’t worked on a lot prior to coming here, so I’m sure you’re going to see a lot more of it this year,” Larsson said.
Both Fleming and Larsson credited UMaine assistant coach Igor Vrzina for his work with them.
“Coach Igor played at this level so he knows what it’s like,” Fleming of Vrzina said. He’s coached a lot of players before and really understands the offense we want to do. The footwork that he coaches and just putting us in game situations during practices really is helping us get a rhythm that we can fall into during games.”
That double-post threat will be put to a bigger test Sunday when UMaine plays at Ivy League preseason favorite Harvard in a 2 p.m. start. The Crimson have a much taller lineup than Merrimack, one rivaling the Black Bears’ starters in height.
But so far, so good.
“I love it,” Fleming said, “and I hope it’s going to work out well for us this year.”