To predict a win for a team that had won only two games all season is a risky move, but that was the first sign that something unusual was in the air when the University of Maryland Baltimore County radio announcers did just that before Saturday's home game against Rider.
The Retrievers did their part to back up the prediction, as they fought from 12 points down in the second half for a 72-63 win that broke a six-game losing streak.
In their last home game, against Central Connecticut on Feb. 7 -- a 68-57 loss -- the Retrievers (3-21, 2-8 in the East Coast Conference) played their poorest game of the season. They followed that with an impressive effort Wednesday in a 73-68 loss at Delaware and Saturday's victory.
"That was an embarrassing defeat, and our guys just had to realize they didn't have the intensity to be successful," UMBC coach Earl Hawkins said. "It just took teamwork and the guys realizing if we don't do it now, we'll never do it."
UMBC was a different team from the outset against Rider. Players were more verbal on the court and did a good job hustling to defend the passing lanes. And from 6-foot-10 senior center Jim Frantz leading the fast break with a rim-rattling dunk to sophomore guard Dana Harris hitting a key three-pointer to give his team the lead for good with 2 minutes, 16 seconds left, the home crowd had a win to cheer about for the third time this season.
The victory over the second-place Flying Dutchmen assured a bye for Towson (16-8, 10-1) in the first round of the ECC tournament. Forward Chuck Lightening scored 21 points in a perfect game (10-for-10 from the field and 1-for-1 from the line) and guard Terrance Jacobs added 18 to lead the Tigers.
While Towson has breezed through the ECC this season (the loss to Drexel broke a 14-game winning streak over ECC teams dating back to last season), the team has flirted with disaster in games at the Towson Center. The Tigers are 7-3 at home, with six of the wins by eight points or less and four wins by four points or less. Their average winning margin at home is 5.7 points, compared to 11.0 points on the road.
Take out the final-second wins against Bucknell and Delaware, and the Tigers would have a 5-5 home record.
"I don't want other teams to feel they can come in here, get comfortable and beat us," Towson coach Terry Truax said after the Drexel loss. "I don't think our kids can appreciate how well other teams prepare for us because of our start. I've seen some inconsistency in our play lately, and that bothers me. But I don't think it's a situation where we peaked too early."
The Bears (5-20, 5-9 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference) were without leading scorer Glenn Smith and center Marcus Sheffield, who were disciplined for unspecified reasons.
"Sometimes you have to sacrifice," first-year Morgan coach Michael Holmes said. "We're looking for players with discipline and maturity to be part of this program. We played all the players [Saturday] who have been showing that in practice."
* After a win against Manhattan on Monday gave Loyola its longest winning streak of the season at four, the Greyhounds (12-13, 5-9 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference) have dropped two straight after Saturday's 93-62 loss at Canisius. Loyola closes the season with two home games, starting tomorrow against Fairfield.
* Milestone: Coppin State assistant coach Derek Brown got his first Division I win with his team's victory over South Carolina State on Thursday that clinched the regular-season MEAC title. Brown was filling in for head coach Fang Mitchell, who had undergone surgery the previous day to remove a tumor from the base of his neck.
* Nationally, in a late game Saturday night, top-ranked UNLV got 27 points from guard Anderson Hunt and 18 from All-America forward Larry Johnson to defeat No. 12 New Mexico State, 86-74. It the 33rd straight victory for UNLV (22-0, 13-0 in Big West), dating back to last year's national championship season.
* Player of the Week: Coppin State's Larry Stewart, who scored a career-high 40 Thursday win against South Carolina State. Stewart also grabbed 17 rebounds (he's third in the nation.
* Game of the Week: Army at Navy Saturday. Just as in the football rivalry, it's throw out the records when these teams play. Army won last year, but Navy leads the series, 36-32.