After UMBC's 53-49 win in a Northeast Conference game against Wagner last night, Kennedy Okafor and Rich Giddens were in a role that has been surprisingly unfamiliar for them: heroes.
The pair entered the season as the team's top returning players, Giddens coming off the most prolific scoring year of any Retrievers freshman with 434 points, Okafor with the tag of Big South Newcomer of the Year as a freshman.
But after twin suspensions for team rule violations following the team's 0-4 start, the pair faded into the background as Brad Martin and Rod Harrison took over their starting positions.
Instead of sulking, Giddens and Okafor turned back the clock against the Seahawks (3-10, 1-6), combining for 25 points off the bench as the Retrievers (8-5, 7-0) picked up their seventh victory in the past eight games.
Okafor scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half, six in the final six minutes as UMBC took back a lead that had been wrested from it by Wagner. At the same time, Giddens scored a season-high 11 points, including a pair of key layups in the final minutes of a game that became tighter than it should have been.
"It always feels good to contribute to winning, but tomorrow it could be someone else," Giddens said. "Today, I was in the game, I was playing pretty well and I made a few good plays."
The work of Giddens and Okafor made sure that the motivation of embarrassment would be insufficient for Wagner, which lost to the Retrievers by 20 in Staten Island just five days before.
"When you beat a team like that in conference, especially five days ago, that's fresh in their memory," UMBC coach Tom Sullivan said. "These kids had their backs up against the wall and at any level, emotion is so critical. And when you have teams that are emotionally charged like that, you have to make sure you don't give them a thing."
The Seahawks provided help of their own, committing 18 turnovers, including a crucial turnover in the final 39 seconds, when forward Vinson Smalls threw the ball away after stealing it from Harrison with his team down 51-49.
"It's one of those things that happens when your team isn't playing well," said Wagner coach Tim Capstraw, whose team has lost four straight since beating Yale on Dec. 27.
The gaffe negated the battle up from a nine-point halftime hole, led mainly by Frantz Pierre-Louis and Bobby Bok, who shared top scoring honors with 16 apiece. Pierre-Louis, the league's second-leading scorer and possibly its top player, scored 11 in the second half.
Wagner overtook UMBC, 41-40, with 8: 17 left after a jumper by Bok, who was making his first start of the season because Capstraw was looking for some offensive punch. The last of Bok's points, on a jumper with 6: 51 left, gave the Seahawks their largest lead of the second half, 45-42.
From there, UMBC's defense reprised its role of the first half as the main factor in the game. The Retrievers, who held Wagner to 30 percent shooting in the first half, shut the water off on the Seahawks, allowing a Pierre-Louis layup only after five minutes of drought.
"We lost a little bit of control for a while," Giddens said. "Every team that has a few good players is going to make a run. We just played better last 4: 30 of the game."
WAGNER -- Smalls 2-4 0-0 4, Bok 8-12 0-2 16, Pierre-Louis 5-10 6-10 16, DeBlasi 0-1 2-2 2, Kabore 1-8 1-2 3, Rodgers 0-1 0-0 0, Myrthil 1-6 0-0 2, Klauder 0-0 0-0 0, Reed 3-4 0-1 6. Totals 20-46 9-17 49.
UMBC -- Green 1-2 1-2 3, B. Martin 0-2 2-4 2, Grella 3-4 0-0 6, Ward 0-6 2-2 2, Harrison 1-3 0-2 3, Giddens 4-6 2-4 11, Hyland 3-8 0-0 8, Womble 0-1 0-0 0, Okafor 7-8 0-0 14, K.Martin 1-4 2-2 4. Totals 20-44 9-16 53.
Halftime--UMBC, 29-20. 3-point goals--W 0-5 (Smalls 0-1, Kabore 0-2, Myrthil 0-2); UMBC 4-14 (Hyland 2-5, Harrison 1-2, Giddens 1-3, Ward 0-4). Rebounds--W 34 (Pierre-Louis 12); UMBC 22 (K.Martin 4). Assists--W 10 (DeBlasi 4); UMBC 9 (Ward 4). Total fouls--W 16, UMBC 19. A--772.
Pub Date: 1/08/99