After winning 15 of its past 16 games, the UMBC men's basketball team is gaining notice, and the throng at UMBC Fieldhouse that saw a 68-58 win was reflective of that.
The crowd of 2,241 yesterday was greater than any last season. Also different has been the expectation of domination. Now, when UMBC (15-5, 14-0 Northeast Conference) is up only six points in the middle of the second half against Quinnipiac (8-12, 5-8), it doesn't seem quite right.
But despite the 10 wins in a row, those who come to watch college basketball in Catonsville can expect to be bemused. This is a team that will hit seven unanswered points in the first minute, then go scoreless several minutes.
More often than not, UMBC shows this characteristic at home, for instance in the nail-biter over still winless Monmouth last week. Then, two nights before Quinnipiac came calling, the Retrievers opened with a 30-5 run against Fairleigh Dickinson, only to scrape by with a four-point win.
Still, UMBC managed to avoid the adverse alternative, remaining unbeaten in the NEC on the strength of a career-high 19 points by Brad Martin and defense that limited Quinnipiac to 33 percent shooting in the second half. It did this by doing what it has done best over the last two months, that is, breaking out of a rut just in time.
"Every team is coming out against us at their highest level," UMBC coach Tom Sullivan said. "As soon as someone starts closing in on a lead, it looks like they're on a roll. We've been maintaining our leads, but subconsciously, we think that we have to be up by 15 or 20 for us to be winning."
Yesterday, the Retrievers outscored the Braves 15-5 over a five-minute period late in the second half, putting the game away earlier than what has become the norm. The run was capped by a three-pointer by Rod Harrison with the clock running down, making the score 62-46 at the 6: 12 mark, ending the game of keep-'em-watchin' that UMBC had indulged in since the game's beginning.
With 19: 55 left in the first half, Martin's follow gave UMBC a 7-0 lead, and his second basket made it 11-3 at the 17: 15 mark. Martin, who scored 19 against Quinnipiac earlier this season, had 15 in the first half as his teammates immediately spotted a mismatch between the 6-foot-5 guard and 6-3 Jamar Fields.
"We came out intense and ready to play hard," Harrison said. "We set the good screens and everything worked out."
But then, the Retrievers went two minutes without scoring, then three more, allowing Quinnipiac to close the margin to 13-11.
UMBC seemed to break the game open again late in the first half, going on an 11-2 run that made the score 35-20. That didn't last, either, because the Braves then outscored the Retrievers 12-3 over the next 2: 30.
Down 39-32 at the half, Quinnipiac continued to lurch toward UMBC, as Ivoree Stanley's free throw with 11: 52 left brought the Braves to within 47-42.
From there, however, Martin and Tim Hyland both hit a pair of baskets as the Retrievers went on a 12-2 run that extended the lead to 59-44 with 7: 56 left. Nearly two minutes later, on an organized play that seemed otherwise, Harrison drilled the 21-footer that closed the game.
"That was a set play," said Harrison, who hit the shot after veering right and left toward the middle of the court before releasing it just before the shot clock expired. "You can't call it a thrown-up shot."
From there, Quinnipiac was able to cut the lead to 64-58 with 1: 34 remaining, but got no closer, struggling from beyond the arc.
After hitting six of eight three-point shots in the first half, the Braves made only one of their eight second-half attempts.
"It was hard for us to know who the shooters were. It was tough in transition," Martin said. "At halftime, coach told us that they hit six out of eight, don't give them the open look."
QUINNIPIAC -- Pondexter 4-9 0-2 8, Mackenzie 2-5 0-0 6, Romano 4-9 0-2 8, Fields 1-1 0-1 2, Grasso 3-11 0-0 9, Stone 0-0 0-0 0, Stanley 2-3 6-8 10, Tabb 2-5 7-8 13, McNeish 0-0 0-0 0, Rosato 1-1 0-0 2, Allahgholi 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 19-45 13-21 58.
UMBC -- Green 2-5 0-0 4, Martin 8-12 3-7 19, Grella 2-6 2-2 6, Ward 2-10 4-6 8, Harrison 4-9 0-0 10, Giddens 0-1 0-0 0, Hyland 4-9 0-0 9, Womble 0-0 0-0 0, Streeter 0-0 0-1 0, Okafor 1-3 4-4 6, Martin 2-2 2-5 6. Totals 25-57 15-25 68.
Halftime--UMBC 39-32. 3-point goals--Quinnipiac 7-16 (Mackenzie 2-3, Grasso 3-9, Tabb 2-3, Allahgholi 0-1), UMBC 3-18 (Ward 0-6, Harrison 2-6, Hyland 1-6). Fouled out--Tabb. Rebounds--Quinnipiac 34 (Pondexter 8), UMBC 32 (Martin 7, Grella 7). Assists--Quinnipiac 11 (Grasso 4), UMBC 11 (Ward 4). Total fouls--Quinnipiac 23, UMBC 21. A--2,241.
Pub Date: 1/31/99