UMBC's 79-76 victory over America East foe Maine on Saturday may have barely registered on the college basketball radar, but it was a significant outcome for the Retrievers.
The victory allowed UMBC (5-11) to snap a two-game slide in the conference. Coach Aki Thomas tried not to put more emphasis on one game over another, but he conceded that the win was heartily welcomed.
“We’d like to think that we need every game and that no game is more important than the other,” Thomas said Monday morning. “But starting out 0-2 with a young group, we want to try to get as much success as we can early on. So I thought it was important in that regard.”
Saturday’s game appeared to be headed to overtime before the Retrievers broke a 70-70 tie with a 6-0 run in the final five minutes of regulation.
Tight games have been familiar for UMBC, which lost to UMass Lowell on Jan. 5 and Albany oin Jan. 8 later by a combined six points. The team is 4-6 in games decided by six points or less this season.
While he would prefer a less stressful ending, Thomas said the close games have thickened his players' skin.
“The one thing I keep thinking about is, later in the season, I’ve got to assume that we’re going to play in some close games and we started out our season with four straight overtimes [after a season-opening loss to Arizona State],” he said. “That’s got to help us mentally when we get into those situations to not panic because we’ve been there. It seems like that’s what we do. It looked like we were going to be in another one of those situations on Saturday and it was. We didn’t know if it was going to overtime or not, but we were prepared for it.”
The Retrievers can secure their first winning streak of the season when they visit America East rival New Hampshire on Wednesday night. The Wildcats have lost 13 consecutive games after opening the season with two victories and are 0-2 in the conference.
Then again, UMBC is winless in 10 road games, and Thomas said the team can’t afford to overlook New Hampshire.
“They’re a tough team,” Thomas said. “I know that they’re going through some tough times right now, but they’re not quitting. I saw them over the weekend, and they’re definitely playing hard and sticking together. They have a chance – just like everybody else in our league – to beat anybody on any given night. So there’s no way we would take anybody in this league lightly. I think that we would really be hurting ourselves if we did that. We have to go up there and execute our game plan and play to our strengths to give ourselves a chance to win.”