Since its founding in 1966, UMBC has never had more reason to be proud athletically than it did yesterday against Towson State in the East Coast Conference basketball tournament -- and the Retrievers lost the game.
One of the top accomplishments of the year was the way injury-riddled UMBC (7-22) picked itself up off the floor after losing 21 of its first 23 games. The team closed by winning five straight and then taking No. 1 seed Towson to the wire at the Towson Center in the ECC semifinals. The home team won, 78-76, on a 15-foot jumper by Terrance Jacobs with 14 seconds left and will face Rider in the finals tomorrow (5 p.m., ESPN).
"Just before we started winning I met with all the players one-on-one," said UMBC coach Earl Hawkins, "but I didn't say anything. I just listened. They kept saying that they hadn't come to play up to then. Then they began to play with a different attitude."
Two weeks ago it was inconceivable that UMBC would make this kind of showing in the tournament. Naturally Hawkins was disappointed it wasn't a little bit better.
"We wanted to be in the big show Tuesday night, and in the bigger show [NCAA tournament] down the road," Hawkins said.
* The Tony Seaman era at Johns Hopkins got off to a disappointing start Saturday when the Blue Jays played poorly and were beaten decisively by Princeton, 15-10.
The game proved two things. Hopkins doesn't have enough big-time players and Princeton does.
Seaman, who took the Hopkins lacrosse job last summer after the incoming freshman class had been admitted, will need a year or two of effective recruiting to bring the Jays back. Bill Tierney, in his fourth year at Princeton, has his program rolling. Five of his freshmen -- goalie Scott Bacigalupo, Kevin Lowe, Taylor Simmers, Scott Reinhart and Brian Tomeo -- played very well, proving what every coach said last May, that Tierney had the best recruiting year in the country.
"I think Princeton can be a Final Four team," said Dr. Myrt Gaines, a Lacrosse Hall of Famer from Princeton who, in the real world, is chief of staff at GBMC.
His son, David Gaines, a junior from Gilman and a defenseman for the Tigers, said: "Our program has come a long way under Coach Tierney . . . Since we beat Hopkins in the playoffs last year, there's no intimidation factor."
* Notre Dame, the basketball coaching grapevine is saying, is ready to make a change and the man who will replace Digger Phelps after two decades will be Pete Gillen of Xavier. As one man who coached college basketball for many years said yesterday: "I think Petey has known for a while that he'd get the Notre Dame job. Otherwise, why would he have turned down Ohio State and Virginia?"
* Lefty Driesell has to be embarrassed over the elimination of top-seeded James Madison from the Colonial Athletic Association tournament over the weekend by Navy, 85-82. A loss like that lends credence to reports that Lefty's team has internal problems stemming from the inability of transfer students to mesh with the program.
Until now, it's been all roses for the ex-Maryland coach in three years at JMU, where he has a new house on the side of a mountain and where his son, Chuck, is at his side as an assistant.
* Loyola College's basketball team wound up winning 12 games -- eight more than last year -- despite losing its last five. The Greyhounds were eliminated from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tourney Saturday by La Salle, 86-70.
A key to the improvement was the season-long play of guards Tracy Bergan and Kevin Green. A year ago, Loyola beat Army and Navy at midseason, but then lost Bergan (academically ineligible) for the rest of the year and finished at 4-24.
The test of coach Tom Schneider's program at Loyola will be the recruiting job he does this year.
* Maryland's Gary Williams was a hot coaching item a year ago. He's even hotter now after guiding the talent-shy Terps to a 16-12 season. The final game, a 78-74 win at Virginia Saturday, no doubt has a bunch of schools salivating at the thought of luring him away. Maryland, remember, still is ineligible for the NCAA tournament next year.