Negatives could become positives for UMaine basketball teams

The University of Maine's Vincent Eze (center) goes up hard for two past Stony Brook's Tyrell Sturdivant (left) and Roland Nyama during their game at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor on Saturday. (Ashley L. Conti | BDN)

The University of Maine’s Vincent Eze (center) goes up hard for two past Stony Brook’s Tyrell Sturdivant (left) and Roland Nyama during their game at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor on Saturday. (Ashley L. Conti/BDN)

It is not often negatives can become positives, but that could occur for the University of Maine men’s and women’s basketball teams.

The women’s negative that could become a positive is head coach Richard Barron’s indefinite medical leave which has Amy Vachon, the associate head coach, taking over for the last three games. The result has been two solid wins in which the players seemed to be more relaxed, confident and poised even without their floor leader and top scorer, senior Sigi Koizar, for two of those games.

I don’t think that you’ll see Vachon criticizing the players in the media, which Barron has done. Instead, Vachon took responsibility for Maine only scoring 10 points in the second half after leading 31-28 at the half and then losing to Stony Brook 55-41 on Saturday.

The seven international freshmen seem to be more responsive to a lower-key approach as they have a lot more to adjust to by coming to Maine rather than just playing NCAA Division I basketball.

The most effective way of getting players’ attention for poor play is to take them out and talk to them about it.

The men’s negative is the injury list. Likely gone for the season are seniors Garet Beal and Troy Reid-Knight, junior Ilker Er and veteran junior point guard Aaron Calixte. Freshman Andrew Fleming and Ilija Stojiljkovic have been sidelined by injuries, but Stojiljkovic played on Saturday against Stony Brook.

This forced Maine to go with just six or seven players instead of using 10 players with double-figure minutes. Maine has played better in its last four  conference games using just six or seven players, with each averaging over 20 minutes per game.

In snapping its seven-game losing streak, Maine came back from 10 points down against UMass Lowell, which was 2-0 in conference play, to defeat the River Hawks 73-71.

In this comeback win, Ryan Bernstein played all 40 minutes, Wes Myers played 38, Austin Howard 38, Danny Evans 28, Marko Pirovic 27 and Vincent Eze 23.

During this three-game stretch, Bernstein averaged 36 minutes per game, Myers 34, Howard 32.3, Evans 27.3, and Eze and Pirovic 25.7 each.

The player who benefitted the most with added court time was the team’s best player, Myers, who averaged 28.1 minutes and 13.8 points per game in the 15 non-conference games. By adding just 5.9 minutes per game, he added 15.9 ppg, averaging 29.7 in those three conference games.

Stojiljkovic returned for the Stony Brook game and Maine used seven players for double-figure playing minutes in that 74-54 loss. His return reduced other players minutes except for Eze, whose playing time was increased to 32 minutes by 5.7 minutes and he had his first double-double, 12 points and 11 rebounds.

Myers played 35 minutes and had five assists and scored 18 points to give him 107 points in four games and an America East lead in individual scoring at 26.8 ppg.

The big question for head coach Bob Walsh is when Fleming returns will Maine continue to give Myers, Howard and Eze the extra minutes or will Walsh go back to using more players?

If Myers, Fleming and Howard get 35 minutes each, Eze 30 minutes, Pirovic 25, Bernstein and Evans 20 minutes each, then Maine probably will play better then it has before having to go with six or seven players.

Most successful Division I coaches use their best two or three players over 33 minutes per game as they don’t need to rest them because of the eight media and eight team timeouts in TV or online games.

That strategy could mean more wins for the Maine men.