January 21

COLLEGE NOTEBOOK: UMF men’s basketball deals with close loses

Beavers are 4-4 in North Atlantic Conference.

By Matt DiFilippo mdifilippo@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

Sometimes it can be more frustrating to be close and lose than to be far away from victory.

The University of Maine at Farmington men’s basketball team is 6-8 overall and 4-4 in the North Atlantic Conference. The losing record overall comes despite the Beavers outscoring their opponents by five points per game. UMF’s four conference losses are by an average of six points, including a 61-60 setback to Thomas on Saturday.

“It’s hard to explain,” UMF coach Dick Meader said. “If we knew the answer, we’d have it figured out, I think.”

Outside of Castleton, UMF has played conference leader Husson as well as anyone, losing 77-69 to the Eagles. In conference play, the Beavers beat Maine Maritime by 18, Johnson State by 27, and New England College by 23.

But it’s been tough not to focus on the close losses, because those show where UMF could be at this point. About the only area where UMF doesn’t have a statistical edge is turnovers, where the Beavers are giving the ball away four more times per game than their opponents.

“The major thing is we just turn the ball over too much,” Meader said, “and it comes from everywhere. It hasn’t been one thing that we can focus on.”

Meader would also like to see UMF shoot a little better and play better defense. The Beavers are eighth in the 10-team NAC at forcing turnovers.

“We’ve done a great job in practice,” Meader said, “but the drills and empahsis that we’ve had just haven’t translated on the court this year.”

While it’s tempting to focus on areas of improvement, UMF is still tied for fifth in the conference, and has a chance for a huge win Friday against Castleton. The Spartans are in second place in the conference with a 6-1 record.

“We’ve got to get back to the confident stage, and believe in ourselves that we’re going to make shots and make plays,” Meader said. “A win against Castleton would go a long way toward that.”

Of course, that task is more doable with 6-foot-8 senior center Ben Johnson in the lineup. Johnson, a Manchester native and Maranacook graduate, is averaging a team-high 15.5 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. Right behind him in scoring is Andrew Dickey at 14.4 ppg, followed by Pet Sumner (11.4 ppg).

Johnson missed Saturday’s one-point loss to Thomas (he had 25 points and 14 rebounds when UMF beat Thomas on Jan. 7). Meader said Johnson twisted his back in Friday’s practice. Johnson also sat out practice Monday and Tuesday,

Meader said he is “cautiously” optimistic that Johnson will be available this weekend. After playing Castleton on Friday, the Beavers face Green Mountain on Saturday afternoon.

“Hopefully, it responds, but he did twist it pretty good,” Meader said.

Meader said he and Johnson have talked about Johnson possibly playing professionally in another country after this season.

“He would just enjoy going over there and being on a team and exploring the culture,” Meader said. “He’s very bright — loves life, very knowledgeable about other countries and their cultures. Usually, if they’re going to take an American, they’d like someone with size, and he has that.”

• • •

The Colby women’s hockey team allowed its opponents to take 89 shots on goal over the weekend, but came away with a win and a tie thanks to the play of goalie Brianne Wheeler. In two games against Connecticut College — a 3-3 tie and a 3-0 Colby victory — Wheeler made 43 saves in each game.

“She was really on her game this weekend,” Colby coach Mallory Young said.

Colby is 5-6-2 overall and 3-4-1 in the New England Small College Athletic Conference. The Mules have two important games this weekend at Williams. The Ephs are 4-1-1 in the NESCAC.

“They haven’t played any of the league teams that we’ve played, so there’s not much to go on,” Young said. “I think it’ll be a pretty even match both nights.”

• • •

Local standouts Khalil Newbill (Mt. Blue) and Daniel Del Gallo (Gardiner) are making an impact as freshman on the University of Southern Maine wrestling team. Another freshman, Owls Head native and Mt. Blue grad Kevin Moore, is also getting regular matches.

“The biggest thing was just getting him here,” USM coach Joe Pistone said. “I met him last year, and college wrestling really wasn’t on his radar. He started to believe he could win at this level.”

Moore has wrestled at 133 and 141 lbs. Pistone calls them the two deepest weight classes in the nation.

“He’s grinding out wins,” Pistone said. “It drives him nuts when he loses, and that’s a good thing.”

Travis Lazarczyk contributed to this report.

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243mdifilippo@centralmaine.comTwitter: @Matt_DiFilippo
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