Can anybody in the Northeast Conference stop the UMBC steamroller?
Defending champion Fairleigh Dickinson gave it a valiant effort last night at UMBC Fieldhouse but ran out of time and became the Retrievers' 13th straight league victim, 62-58.
The victory gave UMBC (14-5, 13-0) a two-game lead atop the NEC standings, after second-place St. Francis, N.Y., was upset by Robert Morris last night.
But this one wasn't easy for UMBC, which cruised to a 25-point first-half lead, then spent the rest of the game trying to fend off the Knights' comeback.
"In the second half, they sort of took it to us," said Retrievers coach Tom Sullivan. "Our leadership on the court sort of fell apart and we got tentative offensively. We didn't shoot the ball when we had open looks."
Fortunately for his team, the early cushion was sufficient when UMBC scored its final eight points from the foul line without missing one. Kerry Martin accounted for four of those and Terence Ward iced the verdict with two free throws with 13.6 seconds left.
"I think we let down a little," Ward said. "You look up and see a 27-5 lead and you won't come out and say the game's over, but you're thinking about it. I think in the second half our intensity went down on the defensive end."
In its sixth straight defeat, Fairleigh Dickinson (7-12, 4-8) charged back chiefly on the offensive thrust of senior forward Daryl Todd, who packed all 19 of his points into the second half.
His steal and subsequent basket brought the Knights within 56-54 and he soared for a follow shot that trimmed a four-point UMBC lead to 60-58 after two Martin free throws.
But Ward -- a 92 percent shooter from the foul line -- knocked home the clinching shots at an end of the court where a light bank failed in the second half, darkening the UMBC basket.
Sophomore center Nick Grella was the majority of the UMBC offense for much of the second half with Ward clamped by Fairleigh's box-and-one defense. Grella scored eight points in the first 10 minutes of the half to keep the Knights from making too big a rush too soon.
Grella said the success of the Retrievers' maiden trip through the NEC "really hasn't sunk in yet. The rest of the students make fun of us a little bit, but we know we can be beat. Eventually, it's going to happen."
The Retrievers will not play St. Francis, N.Y., until Feb. 16, then will meet the second-place team again four days later.
"I think we're beatable, no question," said Sullivan, whose roster includes only one senior, Rod Harrison. "Two plays go the other way and we could have lost this game.
"But we can play 11 different people and be confident. That's the biggest thing we have going for us."
UMBC has captured nine consecutive games and 14 of its last 15. The start is its best since joining Division I 10 years ago.
Despite the extra attention, Ward finished with 17 points and was 3-for-5 from beyond the arc to pad his NEC three-point lead. Grella contributed 14 points and nine rebounds.
FAIRLEIGH DICKINSON -- Todd 8-14 0-0 19, Ekwe 4-6 0-0 8, Sinding 3-3 0-0 6, Rasmussen 1-9 0-2 3, Perry 0-4 0-1 3, Perry 0-4 0-1 0, Ware 2-2 1-2 5, Williams 1-1 0-1 2, Jackson 0-2 1-2 1, King 4-8 1-2 9, Olafsson 0-0 0-0 0, Van de Keere 1-3 2-2 5. Totals 24-52 5-12 58.
UMBC -- Green 0-1 2-2 2, Martin 2-4 0-0 4, Grella 5-6 4-4 14, Ward 4-8 6-6 17, Harrison 0-2 0-0 0, Giddens 2-3 0-0 5, Hyland 2-9 2-2 7, Womble 0-1 0-0 0, Okafor 2-7 5-8 9, Kindelmann 0-0 0-0 0, Martin 0-0 4-4 4. Totals 17-41 23-26 62.
Halftime--UMBC, 36-21. 3-point goals--FDU 5-21 (Todd 3-8, Van de Keere 1-2, Rasmussen 1-8, Perry 0-3); UMBC 5-11 (Ward 3-5, Giddens 1-1, Hyland 1-4, Harrison 0-1). Rebounds--FDU 23 (Ekwe, Sinding 5); UMBC 34 (Grella 9). Assists--FDU 13 (Rasmussen, Williams 4); UMBC 12 (Green, Harrison, Hyland, Martin, Ward 2). Fouled out--Sinding, Green. Total fouls--FDU 22, UMBC 16. A--2,372.
Mount St. Mary's 69, Quinnipiac 52: The Mountaineers ran their winning streak to four with a NEC win in Emmitsburg.
Gregory Harris led the Mountaineers (10-10, 8-6) with 11 points and Melvin Whitaker had a double double -- 10 points and a career-high 14 rebounds.
The Mount used 11 turnovers by the Braves (8-11, 5-7) and a 27-6 run to take a 39-22 halftime lead.
St. Paul's 68, Bowie State 60: Mudumango Lee had a game-high 25 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Tigers (10-8) over the Bulldogs (2-18). James Rice's 18 points led Bowie State.
Frostburg State 101, Villa Julie 84: Rob Ayers scored 21 as the host Bobcats (8-7) defeated the Mustangs (2-15) for the second time this season. Villa Julie's Brock Jourdan led all scorers with 31.
Pub Date: 1/29/99