BANGOR — If the Maine men’s basketball team seemed a little giddy Sunday despite its 3-10 record, well, maybe there’s an easy answer.
“We’re not 3-10, we’re 1-0,” sophomore guard Dimitry Akanda-Coronel said, softly but emphatically, after the Black Bears breezed past Binghamton 82-66 to win their America East Conference opener before an announced crowd of 2,474 at the Cross Insurance Center.
Kilian Cato, seated to Akanda-Coronel’s left, laughed and nodded his head, saying, “Yeah, that’s right.”
Perhaps most importantly, the Black Bears are 2-1 since Cato returned from an academic suspension. The 6-foot-7 junior forward scored 17 points to lead Maine, and his early 3-pointers were key in building a 49-28 halftime lead.
“He has a great understanding and IQ of the game in our frontcourt, which is not extremely experienced,” Maine Coach Ted Woodward said.
“And he’s hungry, and he should be. He’s anxious to get back here with us, which he is now, and he’s going to make the most of every day moving forward. He’s come in in great shape; he’s come in ready to play and given us a great lift.”
Cato spent the offseason in his native Finland, working out on his own and pondering his basketball future. He made up the course he failed by studying online and returned to Orono for a few practices with his teammates before joining them for a holiday tournament in Tennessee. There, the Black Bears got their first victory over a Division I opponent this season, dropping Middle Tennessee State in overtime. They lost to Chattanooga in the title game, but viewed the start of conference play as a second chance to prove themselves.
“We know what our strengths are and what our other teammates can do. It doesn’t matter if you’re 2-10, if you don’t have confidence and don’t believe in your team, of course you’re not going to win,” Cato said. “It doesn’t matter really what other people think because we know we can be a great team and be successful.”
Maine was successful because it combined its normal potent offense with better defense and rebounding. The Black Bears got 14 points apiece from Akanda-Coronel and Zarko Valjarevic. Troy Reid-Knight came off the bench to add 10 points in just 11 minutes.
But Maine also outrebounded the Bearcats (3-11, 0-1 America East) by four and limited them to 4-of-24 shooting from the 3-point arc. Binghamton was never able to cut the lead to single digits in the second half.
“It’s very pinpoint things we need to fix to be able to get to where we need to go,” Woodward said. “They’ve never counted up their record or anything like that. They’ve always looked at the next day’s practice, the next game.”
Actually, Akanda-Coronel demonstrated that he has counted up Maine’s record, at least in conference play. The Black Bears’ victory led him to proclaim this:
“We know we can compete with everybody in our conference. I believe that we can be top three in our conference. I have full confidence in my teammates.”
Mark Emmert can be contacted at 791-6424 or: