Losing at Arizona State, 96-61, on Friday may have been disappointing but not entirely shocking for the UMBC men’s basketball team. Losing to Division III Eastern on Monday might have been a different story.
Freshman guard Rodney Elliott nailed a 3-pointer with 2.4 seconds left in regulation and sophomore forward Malik Garner scored 12 of the team’s 13 points in overtime to propel the Retrievers to an 84-79 win at RAC Arena in Catonsville.
Coach Aki Thomas understood how fortunate UMBC (1-1) was to gain the victory.
“We escaped a loss that would have been a bad loss,” he said Wednesday evening. “Nobody wants to lose in their home opener to a Division III team. We’ve watched the film from that, and I feel good about the group. We’ve got a nice group of guys. These guys have been getting along and really getting to know each other. Chemistry is something that we’ve been paying a lot of attention to since getting all of these new guys. Half of the guys are returning, and half of the guys are new. So chemistry is something we’re paying close attention to.”
Garner scored a career-best 32 points against Eastern, and Elliott added 19 points and a team-high five assists. Garner, who leads the team in points (22.0) and field-goal percentage (60.9 percent on 14-for-23 shooting), and Elliott, who ranks second in points (15.5) and first in assists (eight), are part of a youth movement for the Retrievers. Thomas said he hopes the contributions will be more varied, however.
“I think we’re going to have to rely on different players throughout the season depending on the kinds of games that they are,” he said. “The way our team is made up, I like to think that we can go a little deeper than we did last year. The other night, those two guys really stepped up and supported us offensively. I think we’re going to have nights where it’s going to be different guys on different nights. Malik is somebody that we look to for a lot of different reasons, not just offense. But I thought he did a really good job finding his spots. He did a really good job against Arizona State, too. I think he had 12 points against Arizona State. … He’s been confident in practice, and he’s been confident in games. And Rodney is the same way. He’s really, really confident and getting used to the style of play and how we want him to help our team. It’s not just going to be one or two guys throughout the year. At some point, hopefully, you’ll see different guys step up against different teams.”
One note of concern for Thomas is the team’s poor showing from the free-throw line. UMBC sank just 54.0 percent of its free throws (27 of 50) against Eastern and is at 50.7 percent (38-for-75) for the season.
Thomas acknowledged that the team must improve in that department.
“Right now, it’s a concern,” he said. “We’re two games in, and I wouldn’t want that percentage to be a stat that we’re talking about in February. So we’ve been putting in extra time and shooting a lot more free throws, and really paying attention to what we’re doing in practice with our free-throw shooting and how we’re doing them. Guys have been coming in and getting a lot of extra free-throw shooting in. It’s something we’ve been paying attention to even before we started playing games. We saw it as an issue. It’s going to take some time, but hopefully, it doesn’t take too much time.”