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Intense UMBC humbles Mount, 68-59 Without two top players, UMBC notches first win


Mount St. Mary's players were feeling pretty good about themselves after a near-upset of Villanova. And they had to feel good about their chances against UMBC last night upon learning that the Retrievers' top players -- Kennedy Okafor and Rich Giddens -- were suspended for viola- tions of team rules.

Those good feelings, however, were quickly dashed by UMBC, which shot 56 percent en route to a 68-59 victory over the Mountaineers (1-3) in front of 2,627 at UMBC Fieldhouse.

The Retrievers jumped out to a 9-2 lead and trailed for only 36 seconds on the way to their first win in five games this season.

"It was everything we'd warned them about," said Mount St. Mary's coach Jim Phelan, whose team lost to Villanova, 71-68, on Friday. "[UMBC was] going to play strong, aggressive. Without two of their best players, they played hard and did everything they needed in order to win."

Nick Grella, who received minimal playing time for UMBC last year, proved once again that he intends to be a force this season. The sophomore had his second double-double effort in as many games, scoring 13 points and pulling down 11 rebounds.

The Retrievers out-rebounded the Mount, 23-8, in the first and ended up with a 38-26 advantage overall. They also held the Mountaineers to 37 percent shooting for the game.

UMBC did it without Okafor and Giddens, who both sat out because of violations at the Morgan State game on Nov. 21. Giddens was suspended for a verbal outburst during the game and Okafor for missing the bus after the game.

"Those aren't that severe," UMBC coach Tom Sullivan said, "but we have to raise the bar to make sure they understand that there's a certain type of order in excellence that is expected."

Undeterred, seven different players scored UMBC's first seven baskets, taking an early 14-5 edge on the way to a 37-29 advantage at the half.

The Retrievers appeared to be sparked by the crowd, even though about half of those in attendance were Mount supporters.

"For once, we had a crowd on our side and they weren't chanting at us," said Rod Harrison, noting the fact that the Retrievers played their first four games on the road. "It was time to rattle them. [The crowd] got us involved, they got us more intense."

Even so, the Mountaineers charged back in the second half, taking a 45-44 lead on a three-pointer by Gregory Harris with 10: 49 remaining. But Terence Ward -- UMBC's leading scorer with 14 points -- hit a three-pointer with 10: 36 left to give the Retrievers a 47-45 advantage.

Ward's basket ignited a 12-3 run over six minutes that gave UMBC a 56-48 lead with less than five minutes left, and took the Mountaineers out of the game.

"Coming off the Villanova game, we thought it was going to be easy," Phelan said. "They [the Retrievers] were well-prepared, well-drilled -- and we thought we were going to waltz through the game."

Pub Date: 12/04/98

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