As the UMBC men’s basketball team struggled through a three-game losing streak, coach Aki Thomas knew the outlook could turn even bleaker as a four-game road stretch loomed.
But the Retrievers provided Thomas some relief by outlasting UMES, 64-59, at RAC Arena on Monday night. It was a welcome respite, considering the program won’t play at home until Dec. 30, against Navy.
“We don’t play again at home until the end of the month. I thought it would be real important to get another home win before we have this long stretch where we have road games and finals,” Thomas said Tuesday. “So it was important in that regard. It was also important because I thought we had some really good practices leading up to the Eastern Shore game. We had three really good practices, and as a coach, I wanted to make sure that the players could have a feeling of, ‘OK, when we practice well, there’s some carryover to the games.’ It’s tough when you practice well and you practice hard and then you don’t have the result you’d like to have.”
UMBC was buoyed by the play of freshman forward-center David Kadiri and senior point guard Quentin Jones (Mount St. Joseph), both of whom made their second starts of the season. The 6-foot-8, 190-pound Kadiri led the team with 21 points on 10-for-13 shooting, and Jones added 13 points and three assists.
Thomas said he likes the starting lineup of Jones and freshman Rodney Elliott (John Carroll) in the backcourt and junior forward Devarick Houston, sophomore forward Malik Garner and Kadiri in the frontcourt.
“We still have a lot of basketball to play, and at different times, there might be different lineups just for matchup purposes, but right now, we like that lineup,” Thomas said. “We like having two point guards out there and the energy that David is bringing. … So the lineup right now is pretty solid, but you never know if we have to change it up for matchup purposes or something different. But right now, we like what they’re bringing.”
That starting five could have to bring a lot on a road trip that begins Wednesday at Duquesne and includes games at Lehigh on Saturday, Coppin State on Dec. 11 and George Washington on Dec. 21.
But Thomas said this stretch should help prepare the team for the rigors of playing on the road against America East Conference competition.
“I think it’s great for us to go through it now because we travel a lot in the conference,” he said. “We have some long road trips when we go up to Maine and Vermont and New Hampshire. Those are long road trips for us. Even Albany, in some respects, is a long trip. So to go through a stretch like this now, as opposed to being hit with it in January for the first time, will help our young guys, our new players. So I think this can help us in the long run.”