LYNCHBURG, Va. -- Down by 16 points at halftime, UMBC staged a furious comeback and took the lead in the final minutes over top-seeded North Carolina-Asheville in the first round of the Big South Conference tournament yesterday, but crucial mistakes in the game's final moments enabled the Bulldogs to escape with a 54-51 victory.
Robert Stevenson and Josh Pittman, the Big South Player of the Year, collaborated on two baskets in the final 1: 02 of play to put the game away for UNC-Asheville (18-9).
The Retrievers (5-22) entered the tournament on a bit of a roll, having won three of their previous five games, but lost their best player of late, senior Ron Lucien, to an ankle injury just five minutes into the game.
"It changed our rotation," UMBC coach Tom Sullivan said of the injury to the senior from New York City, who had averaged 18.4 points per game in his last five games. "He couldn't play and we've been counting on him lately."
After Lucien went out, the Bulldogs went on a 19-8 tear that gave them a 36-20 halftime lead.
But UMBC came out strong at the start of the second half, getting several offensive rebounds and two baskets from freshman forward Isaac Green. The Bulldogs briefly extended their lead to 18 points (40-22) with 17: 26 left, but the Retrievers fought back with a 15-2 run to get within 42-37 with 10: 38 left.
UMBC took its first lead since the game's opening minutes, 48-46, when freshman guard Jason Womble hit a three-pointer from the top of the key with 2: 52 to play. But UNC-Asheville regained the lead a minute later when, with the score 48-47, two free throws by Columbia native Mike Matthews (Hammond/Prospect Hall) made it 49-48.
Marc Lay, a senior for UMBC who was playing in his 108th consecutive and final game as a Retriever, hit a three-pointer to tie the game at 51, but on the Bulldogs' next possession, Stevenson dunked for a 53-51 lead.
Lay scored 11, but Womble scored a team-high 13 for UMBC.
Coppin State 61, North Carolina A&T; 57: The visiting Eagles clinched their fifth straight Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference regular-season title and the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament, while providing coach Fang Mitchell with his 200th career win at the school.
"We played badly, but on the road to come out with a win at this time of year is very important," said Mitchell, who has a 200-119 mark in 11 years at Coppin.
Reserves Danny Singletary and Fred Warrick played key roles down the stretch in a game in which the biggest margin by either team was six points. Singletary hit a three-pointer late to help hold off the Aggies' rally, then hit four straight free throws in the final minute. His free throws with 17 seconds remaining gave the Eagles a 60-55 cushion.
Warrick, who scored 23, converted a three-point play with 3: 10 left to put Coppin ahead, 56-50, after North Carolina A&T; had pulled within 53-50 on an alley-oop dunk by Derick Powell.
Fayetteville State 58, Bowie State 53: David Brown scored a game-high 20 and made two free throws with less than five seconds remaining as the Broncs (13-13) beat the Bulldogs (4-23) in the first round of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association tournament in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Damion Keyes scored 15 for Bowie State, which lost its final 14 games.
Pub Date: 2/27/97