Scant turnout saves listless UMBC from even further embarrassment


For the "glass is half-full" folks, the bright side of UMBC's 68-57 loss to Central Connecticut last night was that the Retrievers embarrassed themselves before only 833 fans.

UMBC (2-20 and 1-7) went through the motions as it sank deeper into the East Coast Conference cellar by falling to its competition for that dishonor. Like UMBC, Central Connecticut is rated among the nation's weakest Division I teams, and the Blue Devils lost the ECC's top scorer, Obet Vasquez, to a knee injury with five minutes left in the first half.

For long stretches this season, the Retrievers had to play with no healthy seniors, so there were explanations for a 51-point loss at Kansas and even a 48-point shelling at George Washington. Coach Earl Hawkins, however, had trouble accepting a rout administered by Central Connecticut (4-17), which was winning on the road for the first time since Jan. 18, 1990.

The Blue Devils came in allowing 98.8 points a game on 55.1 percent shooting, but UMBC's first-half field goals could be counted on one hand and only a meaningless spurt in the final 5:30, when they scored 28 points, allowed the Retrievers to shoot 33.3 percent for the game.

"We were not mentally prepared to play, and I have no idea why," said Hawkins, UMBC's third-year coach. "We looked like we didn't know what to do with a basketball. We threw the ball away when they weren't even pressing us.

"We've had a lot of injuries and illness, and it's hard to keep going on, but we've still got to show up and play."

Hawkins thought the low point in UMBC's five-year history in Division I came with 1:46 left in the first half, when Brian Watkins air-balled a free throw. The Retrievers shot 5-for-19 (26.3 percent) in the first half, but things got even bleaker in the second, as they trailed 55-27 with less than seven minutes left.

UMBC is in danger of finishing with the worst record in the program's 23-year history, threatening the 1970-71 team's 3-17 mark. In 1985-86, the Retrievers' last season in Division II, they went 5-23. With at least six more games remaining, they'll have to split to avoid setting a school record for losses in a season.

Hawkins was even disgusted by a six-day layoff UMBC has before next Wednesday's game at Delaware. "We need to play another game right away."

Sophomore Melvin Swann was the Retrievers' top scorer, and seven of his 14 points came in the final 4:14. Al Williams had 18 for Central Connecticut, which plays at Towson State tomorrow (3:30 p.m.).

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