Loyola senior point guard Jason Rowe scored 18 points over the game's last 10 minutes, leading the Greyhounds on a 21-7 run and a 77-71 win over UMBC last night at Coppin Center to take the Battle of Baltimore championship for the second year in a row.
It was a dreamy night for the senior point guard from Buffalo, who had 35 points, eight rebounds, eight steals and six assists on the way to Most Valuable Player honors.
He put his own exclamation point on the matter by slam dunking over Isaac Green with 21 seconds left, ending any chance UMBC had of regaining the 16-point lead that it had lost.
"I consider myself the emotional leader of the team, and if I get out of control, the rest of the team was going to follow my lead," Rowe said of the comeback. "So when times got bad, I told [the team] let's settle down and that things would change. That's what happened."
The recipe was similar to the one it used Friday night in the win over Towson. Pick the opposing guards clean or camp in the passing lanes. Then, roll in or pass off for layups, or drain three-pointers in transition. It worked against the Tigers, and it worked against the Retrievers (1-1), forced into 25 turnovers that more or less negated their 51 percent shooting for the game.
"Our defense was very strong," Loyola coach Dino Gaudio said. "They shot 50 percent, but we created 25 turnovers. Jason had a lot of steals because he was in the passing lanes."
As the Greyhounds switched from man-to-man coverage to zone, the Retrievers became tentative, even as they held a 50-34 lead after a three-pointer by Terence Ward with 13: 50 left in the game.
At first, the intervals between UMBC baskets weren't bad -- about one per minute -- but Loyola began scoring in bunches, led by Rowe, who had 24 second-half points.
By the 5: 26 mark, when Damien Jenifer created a turnover, passed the ball ahead to Rowe and a behind-the-back pass to Blanchard Hurd, the Greyhounds were up, 61-60, having outscored the Retrievers 27-10.
Green's layup briefly returned the lead to UMBC, but Rowe gave Loyola the lead for good with a three-pointer that made the score 64-62 with 4: 49 remaining.
"It was a senior doing what a senior's supposed to do," UMBC forward Kennedy Okafor said of Rowe's performance. "He hit shots when he had the opportunity to hit shots. I'm frustrated that we weren't able to regroup. But Jason just did what he had to do."
The meeting was a rematch of the first Battle of Baltimore game last season. In it, the Greyhounds raced out to an 8-0 lead on the way to a 73-61 win. This time, it was Loyola that got off to the slow start.
The Greyhounds missed their first five shots, and committed a bevy of turnovers in yielding a 9-1 lead over the first four minutes of the game.
But by creating offensive opportunities with its defense, Loyola clawed back into the game, which went back and forth for most of the first half with UMBC taking a 32-30 lead into halftime.
The second half began in the same manner as the first. Loyola went nearly four minutes without a basket, while UMBC worked the inside. Okafor scored five of the Retrievers' first seven points on an 18-4 run that ended with a Ward three-pointer and a 50-34 lead with 13: 50 left in the game.
"I thought that in the second half, we did a good job," said UMBC coach Tom Sullivan, whose Retrievers are coming off a 19-win season and a conference championship. "But we felt that we were getting fatigue to be a part of our problem."
In addition to Rowe, Hurd had 14 points, Jenifer had 12 and Brian Carroll had 10.
Ward led UMBC with 21, followed by Okafor and Justin Wilson with 12 apiece and Brad Martin with 11.