AUGUSTA — Jim Ford had a problem. Seven of the 11 players on last season’s University of Maine at Augusta men’s basketball team had left, and the departures also forced the coach to handle the loss of the team’s top two scorers, Keith Chesley and Brandon Rogers.

No matter. In came Dustin Simpson-Bragg, in came Jordon Holmes and here are the Moose, rebuilt with new faces and high-scoring as ever.

“We’re very lucky to have those two with us now,” Ford said. “Jordon has a lot of experience at the guard position, he can score, he can penetrate. Dustin is just extremely athletic, he can take the outside 3 or take his man to the basket and finish very well. The two of them have been wonderful additions to make up for the loss of Keith and Bradley.”

Optimism also abounds on the women’s side. The Moose fell to Central Maine Community College Thursday, 62-50, for their first lost of the season, but UMA has started 2-1, and with the roster notched up from seven to 10 players, it can finally claim strength in numbers.

“It’s something I’ve never had in my career here,” said senior forward and Richmond native Jamie Plummer. “We have a lot of potential, a lot of hustle, a lot of energy, a lot of quickness. And I think all we have is growth.”

Numbers weren’t an issue for the UMA men. The question was who, as in who would replace Chesley’s 23.3 points per game and Rogers’s 21.2. The answer came in a pair of transfers, namely Fairfield’s Simpson-Bragg, a 6-foot-4 sophomore forward from Lyndon State, and Oakland’s Holmes, a 6-1 junior guard from Husson.

The season is young, but the promise is there. Simpson-Bragg averaged 19 points in the first two contests, Holmes averaged 18.5, and Noah Thompson, a returning sophomore guard, averaged 22.5 to give the Moose a high-scoring trio and confidence it’ll stay that way.

“It’s really exciting just to see all the talent we have. I really think we’re an underrated team, we have a lot of talent and a lot of role players we can use,” Simpson-Bragg said. “We’re a really good scoring team. We can score whenever we want.”

There have been hiccups, however. With so many new players, comfort and chemistry is starting anew. The team was out of sorts for its first game, a 71-56 loss to Vermont Tech in which the lack of rhythm was reflected in a whopping 46 3-point attempts.

“We started off the first two games shooting poorly,” said Holmes, referring also to an exhibition opener. “But we’re working on our shots, working on getting to the rim.”

UMA bounced back with a 103-91 win over Great Bay C.C. in which it got 31 points from Thompson and 23 points and 12 rebounds from Simpson-Bragg, but it slipped again in the face of Central Maine C.C.’s full-court pressure in a 95-74 loss Thursday.

“The big thing is about building team chemistry. That’s going to come as we gradually get more experience under game conditions,” said Ford, whose team also starts Madison’s Dustin West at power forward and Topsham’s Alex LaFountain at center. “Shot selection and chemistry right now are probably the two most important things we need to do as a new group.”

Ford sees his team getting there, and he’s confident it can win when it does.

“As we look at it as somewhat of a rebuilding season, we would like to have playoff experience. That’s our goal at this point,” he said. “But I think it’ll be how well we defend.”

The hopes are high for the women as well, who were 23-10 despite the small numbers last year and have their sights set on more.

“As a team, we want to win a championship. We want to get back to the national tournament,” coach Jennifer Laney said. “That’s something in the back of our minds going forward.”

The longer roster will help. Ten players allow UMA to hold scrimmages in practice, adding another layer to the team’s preparation.

“It’s been a great asset to have a full 10,” Laney said. “The camaraderie is really good, especially this early in the season, with so many new faces.”

The team has a good core with the 6-1 Plummer and 5-9 sophomore forward Caitlin LaFountain, but like the men’s team, the Moose ran into an early-season hurdle against CCMC. LaFountain scored 22 points and Plummer had 15, but UMA ran out of steam in the second half, losing its grip on a 26-26 halftime tie.

Laney wasn’t concerned, and neither was her forward.

“Tonight shows us what we need to work on, and gives us a really good standard to push forward with,” Plummer said. “It’s really early in the season, and I think this is a really good early challenge for us. It shows us exactly what we need to work on, and just gives us more motivation to push forward.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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