EMMITSBURG -- The Northeast Conference juggernaut rolled on last night at Knott Arena.
Now, UMBC is not only dominating in its first NEC season, it is shattering league records.
The Retrievers shut off Mount St. Mary's on the inside, shot 52 percent in the second half and scored their ninth straight NEC victory, 79-70, before 1,852 fans. Their 9-0 start against league opposition is the best in NEC history, and it is surprising even to them.
"Truthfully, I didn't think we'd go 9-0," said Kennedy Okafor, who came off the bench to contribute 14 points and eight rebounds. "We beat some of these teams last year, but we still had to show the league we could play with them. Still, I didn't think it was going to be this good."
Because of suspensions, Okafor and Rich Giddens missed the Retrievers' 68-59 triumph over the Mount in their league debut Dec. 3, so they had special motivation for the rematch.
"You always want to play in the rivalry against the Mount," said Giddens, who teamed with Okafor for many of the key second-half points that stretched UMBC's lead to a game-high 12 points twice. "Coming to their gym to play is even a little more special."
The Mount (6-9, 4-5) started quickly, taking an 8-3 lead with Melvin Whitaker hitting two jumpers for the first four points. UMBC quickly adjusted, clamping down on the Mount big men. Whitaker -- also hampered by foul trouble -- never scored another basket.
"Their defense is tough and physical and you've got to be ready to be the same way," said Mount coach Jim Phelan, whose career victory total remained at 791. "They defended well, executed well and made every shot they had to after we started to close in.
"They're playing on a high right now and you don't know who's going to stop them."
UMBC (10-5, 9-0) captured the lead at 10-8 on a jumper by Kerry Martin and never trailed again. The Mount was fortunate to be behind by only 31-26 at the half.
Mount St. Mary's, which lost its first home game this season after a 4-0 start, closed to 44-40 on a three-pointer by Rob Balgac early in the second half, and Balgac (12 points, eight rebounds in 18 minutes) continued to supply a spark off the bench.
But Balgac wasn't enough as teammates Greg Harris (1-for-7) and Eric Bethel (1-for-6) couldn't find the mark from three-point range, and the rallies fizzled.
"They're better now than when we played them the first time," Phelan said of the Retrievers. "In the first half, they worked hard at getting second shots and got them. And now they've got those two guys [Okafor and Giddens] coming off the bench."
The 10-5 start ties UMBC's best in Division I play and its five consecutive road wins is a school record. Overall, the Retrievers have captured 10 of their last 11 games and they don't figure to let up with 11 first- or second-year players who will only improve.
"To me, it's a great win to beat a Phelan-coached team anytime," UMBC coach Tom Sullivan said. "We're fortunate because our kids work at it and we expect every one of them to be able to play defense. We expect them to develop that type of mentality in practice."
Said Giddens: "We have a lot of talent. Last year, we just didn't know how we'd fit in to this league. We tended to play up with the best of them and down with the worst of them. This year, it doesn't seem to matter. We have good chemistry."
UMBC -- Green 0-3 0-0 0, Martin 3-4 1-2 7, Grella 3-7 3-4 9, Ward 3-9 6-6 14, Harrison 2-6 2-2 6, Giddens 4-8 2-2 13, Hyland 2-4 2-2 6, Womble 1-2 0-0 2, Okafor 6-11 2-4 14, Martin 3-3 2-4 8. Totals 27-57 20-26 79.
MOUNT ST. MARY'S -- Hayden 0-4 3-4 3, Whitaker 2-6 2-2 6, Springer 5-7 0-1 10, Harris 7-20 4-4 19, Lloyd 0-2 0-0 0, Gayle 2-3 5-8 9, Balgac 3-5 5-10 12, Bethel 3-10 2-2 9, Herbert 0-0 0-0 0, Wilson 1-2 0-0 2, Grace 0-0 0-0 0, Kessler 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-59 21-31 70.
Halftime--UMBC 31-26. 3-point goals--UMBC 5-16 (Ward 2-6, Harrison 0-6, Giddens 3-4, Hyland 0-2, Womble 0-1), MSM 3-17 (Hayden 0-1, Harris 1-7, Lloyd 0-2, Balgac 1-1, Bethel 1-6). Fouled out--Okafor, Whitaker, Balgac. Rebounds--UMBC 35 (Okafor 8), MSM 36 (Balgac 8). Assists--UMBC 14 (Harrison 4), MSM (Harris 4). Total fouls--UMBC 23, MSM 22. A--1,852.
Pub Date: 1/12/99