NEW YORK -- UMBC's 13-year wait for its first Division I conference championship will have to last a little longer.
Needing a victory over second-place St. Francis, N.Y., to clinch the regular-season title in their inaugural Northeast Conference season, the Retrievers found themselves on the losing end for only the second time in 18 league games.
An 87-77 defeat last night helped tighten up the race with the Terriers. St. Francis (18-6, 15-3) closes the regular season at UMBC (17-7) on Saturday. The Retrievers play host to Long Island University tomorrow night, while the Terriers play at Mount St. Mary's.
UMBC did a good job shutting down senior guard Ray Minlend, holding the nation's leading scorer to 16 points, but watched as junior forward Angel Santana scored a career-high 29.
"We were trying to find answers to outside shooters," said UMBC coach Tom Sullivan. "We kind of solved the riddle with Minlend, but we never had a solution with Santana."
Santana, who recently broke school records for both career three-pointers and threes in a season, hit seven of the 12 he attempted. Freshman forward Henry Lalane, who finished with 21 points, made four of seven. St. Francis was 13-for-25 overall.
Minlend, who came into the game averaging 25 points, scored only two points in the second half, but was enough of a decoy to distract the Retrievers and give Santana and Lalane open looks.
"I hope Ray realizes that he gets a lot of attention," said St. Francis coach Ron Ganulin. "When he's unselfish and the other guys are hitting their shots, it makes things a lot easier."
It also didn't help that UMBC came out flat in both halves. The Retrievers fell behind twice by as many as 13 in the first half before closing out with a 21-4 run to take a 45-41 halftime lead. They fell behind for good in the second half when St. Francis scored the first seven points.
"Maybe it was a lack of concentration, but we seemed to play in spurts," said Terence Ward, who scored a team-high 20 points for UMBC. "But you've got to give St. Francis credit."
The Retrievers fell behind by as many as 15 points in the second half, the second time at 83-68 with 4: 11 remaining, before making a brief run. A steal and layup by Ward with 2: 29 left cut UMBC's deficit to seven, 83-76.
But UMBC could get no closer. After Heberth Reyes missed a pair of free throws for St. Francis, Ward and fellow sophomore Tim Hyland (13 points) each missed three-point shots.
"It was one of those games where you felt as if you were sliding downhill and it was hard to get up," said Sullivan.
The Retrievers don't have much time to pick themselves up. UMBC will get a chance for quick redemption Saturday afternoon against St. Francis, after tomorrow's game with seventh-place LIU.
At stake is the possible top seed in the NEC tournament, which begins a week from Friday at Wagner.
"We now proved we can beat them on our home court," said Ganulin, a former assistant at Nevada-Las Vegas, who's looking for his first league title in eight years at St. Francis. "We know that they're going to be tough on theirs."
UMBC -- Green 1-3 4-6 6, Martin 3-5 2-4 8, Grella 2-4 2-2 6, Ward 5-13 8-10 20, Harrison 3-4 4-4 11, Giddens 0-4 2-2 2, Hyland 5-10 2-2 13, Womble 0-0 1-2 1, Okafor 3-7 0-0 6, Martin 2-4 0-0 4. Totals 24-54 25-32 77.
ST. FRANCIS (N.Y.) -- Santana 8-16 6-7 29, Minlend 7-13 0-0 16, Rogers 3-4 1-2 7, Abel 1-3 0-0 2, Rail 1-2 0-1 2, Nunn 0-1 0-1 0, Walker 0-0 0-0 0, Tein 0-0 0-0 0, Dominguez 1-6 0-0 2, Lalane 6-11 5-8 21, Reyes 4-5 0-2 8. Totals 31-61 12-21 87.
Halftime--UMBC, 45-41. 3-point goals--UMBC 4-15 (Ward 2-8, Harrison 1-1, Hyland 1-4, Giddens 0-2); SF 13-25 (Santana 7-12, LaLane 4-7, Minlend 2-3, Nunn 0-1, Dominguez 0-2). Rebounds--UMBC 37 (Martin, Okafor 8); SF 31 (Dominguez 6). Assists--UMBC 13 (Ward 4); SF 18 (Minlend 6). Fouled out--Green, Martin. Total fouls--UMBC 21, SF 23. A--748.
Pub Date: 2/17/99