As the seventh seed in next week's Big South Conference tournament, UMBC could play North Carolina-Greensboro for a third time. If that happens, the Retrievers will need to come up with something different.
The unanimous preseason choice among league coaches to win the conference, Greensboro continued its push toward the No. 1 seeding yesterday with a 68-49 victory at UMBC Fieldhouse.
The Spartans have beaten UMBC twice in two months by a combined 31 points. Unlike before, the Retrievers were overmatched inside against Greensboro's 6-foot-8 seniors, Eric Cuthrell (22 points, 13 rebounds) and Brian Brunson (17 points, five steals).
A win at Charleston Southern tomorrow would assure the Spartans (16-9, 10-3) of the top seeding next week in Lynchburg, Va. They are one game ahead of three teams, including Charleston Southern, and have assured themselves of no worse than a first-place tie.
The race is so close that if Greensboro had lost its last two games, it could have wound up fourth. A second-place finish would pair the Spartans with UMBC (4-21, 2-11) in the opening round.
The Spartans don't have anyone ranked among the conference's top 10 scorers, but their balanced attack and tough defense pay huge dividends.
UMBC made just 34 percent of its shots yesterday, and a prolonged drought in the first half allowed the Spartans to lead by 16. The Retrievers didn't score for slightly more than six minutes, and Greensboro turned a two-point deficit into a nine-point lead.
The Retrievers went 9-for-25 in the half and made 11 turnovers. Their leading scorer, senior guard Tony Thompson, was kept under wraps until the last 1:34, when his back-to-back three-point plays narrowed the lead to 34-24.
Thompson ended up with 15 points, but went 6-for-24 from the field. Freshman Alhamisi Simms had 17 points.
With UMBC's Ron Lucien matched up against him for much of the evening, Greensboro senior guard Scott Hartzell had just four points, almost eight below his average. But he had eight assists.
UMBC's freshmen big men, Lenny Barber and Eric Poiesz, each picked up their fourth foul with more than 11 minutes remaining, and both later would get their fifth. Even so, the Retrievers were ++ down only 10 points and had possession with 10 minutes left.
A steal and dunk by Brunson started an 11-0 run. UMBC had just switched to a zone when Derrick Nix hit two jumpers, including one from beyond the arc, and Brunson scored twice more.