UMBC is on the road tonight for a game against Maryland, but seniors Skip Saunders and Sonique Nixon will be back on familiar ground.
TC Both Saunders, the Retrievers' leading scorer last season, and Nixon, the leading rebounder, grew up in the Washington area and know Cole Field House well.
Saunders, a 5-foot-11 guard from Woodbridge, Va., remembers going to Maryland games as a child, and Nixon, a 6-8 center from Fort Washington, missed an opportunity to play at Cole when his Oxon Hill High School team was defeated in the 1989 regional finals by High Point.
"It's fun going down there and playing," Saunders said, "but I don't think it's any bigger than any other game."
Nixon, however, sees the game differently.
"I always play hard against Maryland, because they never recruited me," said Nixon. "I mean, I always play hard in every game, but I guess I save a little extra for Maryland."
That little extra has not quite been enough to power UMBC past Maryland. The Retrievers have lost all five previous meetings in the series, and all by at least 10 points.
Last year's 103-80 decision was closer than the numbers indicate.
UMBC jumped out to a 17-6 lead, before Maryland launched a 14-3 run to tie the score at 20 with about nine minutes left in the first half. The Retrievers cut a 14-point halftime deficit to nine, but Maryland went on a 9-0 spurt to put it away.
Saunders, Nixon and guard Spencer Ferguson each had 13 points, and Nixon also had 10 rebounds and six blocks. The Retrievers ultimately were betrayed by cold offensive stretches, shooting just 34 percent.
"Any time you get into a game, there's always going to be a lull in your offense," said UMBC coach Earl Hawkins. "You have to work through it and hope you can keep it close."
For Nixon and Saunders, last season's Maryland game was one in a trend where the team's collective adrenalin ran high early in a match against big-time competition, but flattened out as the game wore on, which combined with the opposition's superior bench, led to losses.
"They have better depth on their bench," Nixon said. "When we play bigger schools, we try to jump out and play them hard, but it starts to wear you down later in the game."
The Retrievers, who opened their season Saturday with a 90-71 win over Washington College, are deeper and more experienced, with three seniors and two juniors in the starting lineup, than in recent years.
"Basically, this is my fourth year here and we've never beaten them," said Saunders. "If we play well, I think we have a chance."
UMBC (1-0) at Maryland (3-0) Site: Cole Field House, College Park
Radio: WBAL (1090 AM)
Outlook: The Retrievers, picked by some to win the Big South Conference, will get their first big test. UMBC's front line figures to have its hands full against the taller Terps, but the Retrievers are vastly more experienced than Maryland and could make things interesting if they can exploit that advantage. The UMBC backcourt of Skip Saunders and Spencer Ferguson surrender height to Johnny Rhodes and Duane Simpkins, but could give Maryland fits with their three-point shooting skills.