After a rough start, the UMBC men's basketball team is now where it expected to be when the season began, above .500.
The Retrievers achieved that goal yesterday by beating Towson, 65-41, at UMBC Fieldhouse for their fifth win in a row.
The winning streak is the longest for the school in coach Tom Sullivan's five years at UMBC (5-4). The run also ties the Retrievers' longest overall, which came in the school's first year of Division I in 1986-87. The Tigers (1-6), meanwhile, are off to their worst start in 35 seasons.
"It just means we have to play Navy on Wednesday," Sullivan said, dismissing the streaks. "I really never look at it that way, nor did I look at the 0-4 start as being indicative of this team's ability."
Still, the Retrievers look nothing like the team that wobbled through the Battle of Baltimore a month ago at the Towson Center. The team left there with an 0-4 record.
"This is a good team that has done a whale of a job of turning itself around since the Battle of Baltimore," Towson coach Mike Jaskulski said. "Back then, they had no sync offensively, and to their credit, they've done a marvelous job."
UMBC, which has a 4-0 start in the Northeast Conference and entered the game with its highest RPI rating ever, No. 120, had earned it by shutting down its league opponents. Allowing success on 40 percent of field-goal attempts, the Retrievers were even stingier against Towson.
Towson, without leading scorer Pete Mauro, made only 29.6 percent of its shots. UMBC guard Terence Ward said the team's success on defense is a function of its altered mind-set. Against teams like Pittsburgh and Maryland, and even Loyola and Morgan State, Ward said the team was passive on defense, waiting for offenses to initiate action.
Yesterday, the Retrievers went out of their way to disrupt the Tigers' offense, getting 10 steals, two by Ward.
"The first four games were important because we saw that other teams were harassing us and we weren't harassing them back," Ward said. "We knew we had to work hard at putting pressure on the other guards so they wouldn't be able to run their offense." At one point, the Tigers went scoreless for nearly seven minutes as UMBC took a 16-9 lead on a pair of free throws by Ward with 8: 01 left in the first half.
The bench, which had been contributing 29 points per game in the wins, put forth 18 first-half points as the Retrievers put Towson out of the game early, even without Tim Hyland, who fractured his cheekbone at Central Connecticut last week. In addition to transplanted starters Kennedy Okafor and Rich Giddens, UMBC got a boost from Neil Streeter, who scored five points in the last three minutes of the first half.
The game was nightmarish for Towson -- led by 11 points from Alphonso Hawes -- still looking for its first win since beating Morgan State in the first round of the Battle of Baltimore on Nov. 19.
Without Mauro, who took time to evaluate his status on the team, the Tigers were without a key reserve, while having to break in guard Torin Ragin, returning from a stress fracture. At the same time, the anticipated return of point guard Marlin Wise from academic suspension was postponed by a problem involving Wise's summer school classes, said Jaskulski.
"We can't use these things as excuses," Jaskulski said. "But those things have piled on us and affected this team emotionally. We have to find a way to rise above that."
Pub Date: 12/20/98