Surging UMBC has a four-game winning streak for the first time in four seasons, and Morgan State continued its season-long slide by falling to its first 0-12 start in eight years last night at UMBC Field House.
At least the visiting Bears -- now the only winless Division I team -- refused to go quietly. In the schools' first meeting in seven years, Morgan State's outside shooting helped it take a 31-30 halftime lead, and the Bears hung around for another 14 minutes after that.
But UMBC, led by senior center Pascal Fleury's season-high 13 points, a terrific all-around performance by junior guard Tony Thompson and gritty defense down the stretch, pulled away to a 70-61 victory before 1,273.
As has become the norm for the Retrievers (5-7) -- still unbeaten in 1995 -- they didn't earn many style points. They simply wore down a less-disciplined team with another display of blue-collar basketball, while staging a decisive 15-8 run over the game's final six minutes.
The 6-foot-3 Thompson was the prime example of UMBC's feisty style. Thompson, who equaled his season-high with a game-high 19 points and added seven rebounds, did it mainly by outworking bigger Morgan State players around the basket. His game-high five steals were indicative of how the Retrievers bothered the Bears in the second half, when Morgan State committed 10 of its 16 turnovers. He also saved countless loose balls.
"He just played extremely well, his best all-around game of the year," Retrievers coach Earl Hawkins said. "He did it all tonight. I need to see more of that every night."
Said Thompson: "I feel more comfortable. We're more confident in close games now than we were in the beginning of the season. We're hard playing, playing together."
The Retrievers led for the final 15:28 of the game, after a three-point basket by Artie Walker (nine points, eight rebounds) gave them a 44-43 lead.
But the Bears, who took an early 26-18 lead, lost it, then regained a 31-30 lead at the half, hung tough for a while. After falling behind 49-43 midway through the second half -- then watching Thompson block a shot by center Jarrad Smith -- Morgan State rallied to cut the lead to 55-53 on a layup by Terrence Wright (13 points). UMBC responded with five unanswered points.
Seconds later, Thompson's eight-foot baseline jumper gave the Retrievers a 62-55 lead with just under five minutes left, and Morgan State never got closer than four.
The Bears' losing streak can be blamed largely on a brutal schedule, virtually all of it on the road. Morgan State's failures have come against the likes of Iowa, Georgetown, Maryland, Ohio State and Clemson.
"I'm not going to use the schedule as an excuse," Morgan State coach Lynn Ramage said. "We went down to Clemson and had no trouble with their press, but tonight we had problems with UMBC's press. I'm shocked by that.
"I'm hurting for our kids. I feel sorry for kids who are working so hard. They deserve better. But until we correct a few things, we're still going to get the same result. We keep hurting ourselves. We're the hardest-working team in the country that hasn't won a game."