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Maine Black Bears off to their worst start in 44 years

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It has been a rocky beginning to the season for the University of Maine men’s basketball team. The Black Bears are 1-8, the worst start for a UMaine ballclub since the 1969-70 squad lost 11 of its first 12 games according to the Bangdor Daily News on Dec. 17.

UMaine has lost seven straight games and their only win has come against Division – III Fisher College (111-64). Six of the Black Bears eight losses have been by double digits.

UMaine is trying to rebuild after losing six players, including a pair of All-America East performers in Alasdair Fraser and Justin Edwards.

The Black Bears’ 2013-2014 roster includes no seniors and only two junior scholarship players. There are 12 underclassmen, including seven freshmen.

“Obviously, we’ve got a lot of guys at new positions. We’ve got a long way to go,” Woodward said Tuesday.

“We really need to find our identity defensively in the half-court, not allow points in transition and finish off possessions (with rebounds) when teams do miss,” he added.

Defense and rebounding have been the most glaring problems for UMaine, which has allowed a league-high 89.6 points per game on nearly 47 percent shooting. Only eight Division I teams have given up more points. Opponents also are connecting at a 38 percent clip on 3-pointers, averaging eight per contest.

Some of UMaine’s issues stem from its lack of frontcourt experience. Sophomore Ethan Mackey, at 6-foot-7, has been serviceable and 6-9 sophomore Stefan Micovic has seen more minutes of late. While 6-8 sophomore Till Groger (3.8 ppg in 12.1 mpg) has seen his minutes decline and 6-8 freshman Christian Ejiga is still learning the Division I ropes and has played sparingly.Erik Nissen, a 6-9 freshman, is out with a knee ailment.

The Bears have been outrebounded by nearly 10 per game. Junior point guard Xavier Pollard is the top rebounder (5.2 rpg), followed by Mackey (4.6 rpg) and freshman Garet Beal (3.6 rpg).

UMaine eads America East at 76.4 points per game. Four players are averaging double figures, spearheaded by Pollard (17.0 ppg), sophomore Dimitry Akanda-Coronel (14.6 ppg), junior Zarko Valjarevic (13.1 ppg) and sophomore Shaun Lawton (10.8 ppg). Lawton is also averaging 4.8 assists and 2.38 steals a game, which leads the America East Conference.

“Offensively, we’ve been at the top of the league and our turnovers are way down,” Woodward said.

Valjarevic has provided a perimeter presence and tops America East with 2.9 3-pointers and his 42 percent accuracy from long distance.

UMaine will travel to Providence College on Dec. 21 for their last game before the Christmas break and then will play two games in Chattanooga, Tenn. (Dec. 30-31), starting with Middle Tennessee State.

The Black Bears will open the conference slate on Jan. 5, versus Binghamton.

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