It's no stretch to say that the UMBC men's basketball team has looked far better at home this season than on the road. In Saturday's America East Conference matinee against Vermont, though, it didn't seem to matter that the Retrievers were playing at RAC Arena.
Against the preseason conference favorite, UMBC seemed as overmatched as it's been at any point this season in a 73-47 loss before an announced 1,145.
The Catamounts scored the game's first 11 points, holding UMBC without a field goal for the first 7:24 before building their lead to as many as 21 late in the first half. The final 26-point margin was the Retrievers' largest since falling to Arizona State by 35 in their season opener, and came on the heels of another lackluster offensive effort in a loss Wednesday at New Hampshire.
"It's been a struggle for us the last couple games," UMBC coach Aki Thomas said. "Our guys understand that this has been a tough stretch, but everybody has tough stretches. We just have to figure out ways to win games and get some better looks at shots and knock them down."
The loss was just the second in seven home games this season for UMBC (5-13, 1-4 America East), which had been averaging close to 14 points more per game in Baltimore. The Retrievers are 0-11 on the road.
Vermont (10-8, 4-0), which got a season-high 22 points from guard Candon Rusin, now has won six straight, three of them conference-game blowouts. Small forward Brian Voelkel added 10 rebounds and nine assists for the Catamounts, who outrebounded the Retrievers 41-24.
"Normally we've done a good job rebounding the basketball. Tonight was not one of those nights," Thomas said. "When you get outrebounded like we did tonight, it's going to be hard to win games, and that's something that I don't expect from this group. One of our strengths has to be rebounding the basketball in order for us to win games."
This one was all Vermont. Rusin, who entered the day averaging 7.9 points per game, scored eight in the first 5:04, including back-to-back 3-pointers from the corner to start the game.
"That was a huge confidence booster for me," Candon said. "I was just shooting well, and luckily my teammates found me tonight and I was able to knock them down."
The Retrievers, meanwhile, could muster little against the league's top scoring defense, time and again settling for poor shots or turning the ball over while trying to force it inside.
Their only real offense came from forward Chase Plummer (12) points), who scored UMBC's first field goal on a layup with 12:36 left in the first half, then moments later added a three-point play to cut the lead to single digits.
But the Retrievers got little else. At halftime, their starting lineup was a combined 0-for-8 from the field.
One of their lone signs of life came early in the second half, when they held the Catamounts without a field goal for more than four minutes, outscoring them 9-2 to get back within 14.
But their surge stopped after freshman guard Rodney Elliott (John Carroll) picked up his fourth foul, forcing him to the bench until the final minutes. Elliott, who entered the game averaging a team-best 14.1 points per game, finished with 10.
The Retrievers shot just 31.9 percent from the field, often forcing its offense while trying to play catch-up. Vermont coach John Becker credited that to his defense.
"It all starts with defense, and that's been the key to us getting off to good starts," Becker said. "Defense helps create our offense, and that's very important for us. When we get stops, we can play with pace offensively and not play against a set defense."