With its campus and alumni still buzzing over the UMBC men’s basketball team’s landmark NCAA tournament upset of No. 1 overall seed Virginia three weeks ago, the Retrievers on Friday night took another shot at No. 1 — this time on the lacrosse field.
The results were stunningly similar.
With patience on offense and their best defensive effort of the season, the UMBC men, mired in one of their worst starts in the program's 50-year history, came up with probably their most unlikely victory, shocking undefeated No. 1 Albany by running out to a six-goal lead before hanging on for an 11-7 win at UMBC Stadium.
The win was particularly sweet for a Retrievers team that had played well in spurts this season, only to fall short in key stretches.
“It's been tough … so just putting this together, putting a full 60 minutes together, is something we've been working for the whole season," junior defender Jason Brewster said. "To be able to do it tonight against a team like that, it's surreal.”
Despite losing 11 of 12 first-half faceoffs to Albany’s TD Ierlan, and 19 of 21 overall, the Retrievers broke an early tie by reeling off six straight goals from six different players, often whipping the ball around the perimeter for much of the shot clock before finding the open man or a cutter.
Time and again, the Retrievers (3-7, 1-2 America East Conference) shredded one of the nation's stingiest defenses — the Great Danes had entered the night allowing just seven goals per game — highlighted by a a season-high five goals in the second quarter alone. Junior midfielder Billy Nolan (Arundel) finished with three goals and two assists, while junior attackman Jack Andrews (St. Mary's) and freshman attackman Ben Keller added a pair of scores each.
"To be able to go in there and execute our game plan and play hard and do the things we needed to do if we were going to win … I'm really proud of all the players in that locker room," UMBC coach Ryan Moran said. "I feel like we've been a work in progress all year. Lately, we've been starting to put things together.”
On the other end, the Great Danes could do little with their frequent possessions, particularly against the Retrievers' zone, often rushing shots and several times getting stuffed at point-blank range by freshman goalie Tommy Lingner (career-high 16 saves). UMBC's defense also forced eight turnovers.
“I thought they played well all over the field. Give credit where credit is due. They were outstanding. No excuses," Albany coach Scott Marr said. "We didn't execute offensively. We never felt comfortable all night. They kept answering.”
The win spoiled a so-far-perfect season for the Great Danes (10-1, 3-1), who had entered the night as the nation's only undefeated Division I team and the owners of a nine-game winning streak against UMBC dating to 2012. They also had a 31-game regular-season conference winning streak.
Albany, playing for the second straight game without star senior attackman Connor Fields (sprained MCL), who leads the nation in points per game, was held without a goal for 25:11 before finally scoring midway through the third quarter.
“We did a lot of scouting of their offense, and I think we got a good look in practice of how they shoot,” Lingner said. "Albany doesn't shoot like a traditional team. They go behind the back, between the legs. We were well prepared.”
UMBC looked strong from the outset, building an early 2-0 lead on unassisted goals by freshman midfielder Michael Zichelli (Severna Park) and Keller.
Then, with the score tied at two, the Retrievers took the lead for good. With just five seconds left in the first quarter, junior midfielder Gunnar Schimoler (South River) beat Great Danes senior goalie JD Colarusso (nine saves) to his left on a shot from the right side.
“We've been generating shots lately, but things haven't been going in,” Nolan said. “The coaches worked hard all week giving us a great scout of the goalie. [Colarusso’s] been unbelievable all year. We shot to scout tonight, and the shots went in.”
After three more goals in a span of 2:47 by sophomore midfielder Ben Revak, Nolan and Andrews, the Retrievers had a 6-2 lead and looked like a team primed for an upset. They extended their advantage to 8-2 late in the first half on a bullet by Andrews from the left side, handing Albany its largest deficit this season.
Once Albany freshman attackman Tehoka Nanticoke cut the deficit to 9-5 with 10:38 left in the game, UMBC’s Nolan and Keller scored back-to-back goals to seal the win and push the Retrievers’ offense into double-figure scoring for the first time all season.
Players said watching their friends on the basketball team gain sudden fame was an inspiration of sorts.
“It tells us that we can do stuff like that too, even with the tough schedule ahead of us,” Brewster said.
Added Nolan: “When you see something like that, it's not just us that believe we can do it. Anyone out there watching TV believes anything can be done, really.”