Ball Don’t Lie: Nor’easters Beat Rival USM Despite Poor Officiating 88-77

Nick LeTourneau, Sports Editor

The University of New England Men’s basketball season is still young and with an overall record of 1-1 they were looking to start the season off on the right foot with the win against in-state rival University of Southern Maine. USM came into the game 1-0 on the season after beating Maine Maritime on the 14th. Center Fred Knight led the team in scoring in the victory with 10 points and four rebounds.

The game got off to a sloppy start thanks to a barrage of missed shots and turnovers but UNE drew first blood with a three from Devin Thompson. He soon followed it up with two made free throws that took the lid off the basket for both sides. One thing that was clear from the beginning is that coach Ed Silva is committed to small ball. Even though he has the likes of Sam Thomas (6′ 10″), Tom Nason (6′ 11″), and Evrim Ozkan (6′ 9″) he often relied on a lineup that was no taller than 6′ 5″ for most of the game.

One of the possible reasons coach Silva doesn’t use his big men in key situations is because of how ineffective the pick and roll was. Too often was a good screen set and the guard was unable to get an entry pass in, or if they did get a successful entry pass the big would either turn it over or throw up a wild shot. USM made sure that the pick and roll wasn’t very effective, but they ended up leaving themselves open for something UNE took advantage of all night; backdoor cuts.

Throughout the game USM’s poor perimeter defense, especially from Cole Libby, was exposed by a sharp backdoor cut by CJ Autry or Devin Thompson that resulted in an easy lay-up, free throws, or an and-one situation. Although, for every clean backdoor cut and crisp entry pass there seemed to be a missed opportunity thanks to missing an open cut or poor passing that resulted in turnovers for the Nor’easters.

The biggest thing to come away with from this game, for me at least, is how bad the referees are at this level. I was shocked at the hand checks and legitimate blocks that were called fouls, it was like the conference went to the closest available middle school game and took the first available refs they saw. Although these refs made Tim Donaghy look like he could win official of the year, USM failed to capitalize on these bogus foul shots by only hitting on 61.3 percent of their freebies.

The second half was twice as exciting as the first, even if it was a little 76ers-esque. Sam Thomas opened the half on back-to-back blocks, pulled down the rebound, and fired the outlet pass to an unsuspecting guard ending the exciting sequence with a turnover. Fred Knight of USM came out looking like a man on a mission, muscling his way past the lanky Thomas for two then blocking a shot on the next defensive possession.

The Nor’easters were deadly from three-point range in the second half thanks to Jean-Luc Parker, Gavin Dibble, Autry, and Thompson who all hit big shots to help put this game out of reach. Poor officiating combined with unnecessary fouls put both teams in the double-bonus at around the 10 minute mark and helped USM battle back from an eight point deficit.

The turning point of this game came with about six minutes left in the game. Thompson drained a three, picked Atencio Martin’s pocket and took it coast-to-coast for the lay-up, then Ozkan pulled down a missed shot and fired it to Autry who drained a three to give UNE a 70-59 lead. Thompson didn’t let up either, hitting yet another three a couple of possessions later to put the game even further out of reach. With 1:45 left Gavin Dibble hit a three that officially put the game out of reach. After a few more missed opportunities by USM and bad calls from the three stooges this one was in the books; UNE 88 USM 77.

Although the Nor’easters came away with a win, there are things that need to be addressed if this team wants to make a splash this year. I was shocked that coach Silva’s crunch time lineup, with three minutes to go, featured only guards. The tallest person on the floor was only 6′ 3″ and it showed. The Huskies out rebounded UNE by one, but if the Nor’easters played a larger lineup, say with the almost seven-foot tall Tom Nason, they could’ve put this team away by halftime. Later in the season against better teams this will really show.

As the great Rasheed Wallace once yelled in the face of an official, ball don’t lie, and that was true in this one. UNE earned this win against rival USM, despite the horrible officiating.

You can catch the Nor’easters in action again on Thursday as they face the Beavers of UMaine Farmington.