Here's what you need to know about the UMBC men’s basketball team’s America East Conference tournament semifinal Tuesday.
No. 2 seed UMBC (22-10) vs. No. 3 Hartford (19-12)
When: Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.
Site: UMBC Event Center
Series: Hartford leads 17-15
What's at stake: In the 2008 America East tournament, the Retrievers beat Vermont in the semifinals and Hartford in the final to secure their first — and, one decade later, only — conference title. The order won’t be the same this week, but UMBC likely will have to go through the Hawks and defending champion Catamounts again for a ticket to the Big Dance. The Retrievers beat Hartford by 22 in Catonsville, where they’re 14-2 overall this season, and by nine in Connecticut. But the Hawks have won seven straight road games and five of their past six overall, including their quarterfinal Saturday against No. 6 seed New Hampshire, 71-60. Neither team has advanced to the conference tournament final since that 2008 matchup, when top-seeded UMBC, led by Darryl Proctor, handled No. 2 seed Hartford easily.
Key matchup: Retrievers guard Jairus Lyles against Hawks guard Jason Dunne. Dunne has averaged 18.2 points over Hartford’s six-game road winning streak, including four 20-plus-point performances. His team-high 22-point showing in the Hawks' 78-56 loss at UMBC last month was a mixed bag; he went 5-for-10 from beyond the arc but just 2-for-6 inside it. Dunne was less productive in Hartford's 62-53 home loss to the Retrievers last Tuesday, held to 13 points on 5-for-15 shooting. He knows by now that Lyles, the conference’s leader in steals (2.3 per game), will be his shadow on defense. Can Dunne stop the Retrievers’ top scorer and first-team all-conference pick from going off on offense? Lyles went for a season-high 35 points in the teams’ first meeting but had just 10, on 2-for-9 shooting, in their second.
Player to watch: Over the past two-plus weeks, K.J. Maura has been as indispensable to UMBC as Lyles. The senior point guard has scored in double figures in five straight games, the longest stretch of his career, while shooting 52.7 percent from the field and 46.4 percent from beyond the arc — staggering accuracy for someone who, at 5 feet 8 and 140 pounds, is regularly the smallest person on the court. Already a trusted team conductor (2.98 assist-to-turnover ratio, No. 13 nationally) and the America East Defensive Player of the Year (1.9 steals per game), Maura is giving opponents more and more to worry about.