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UMBC men’s basketball can’t solve mystery of disappearing offense in 70-63 loss to Hartford

With his UMBC men’s basketball team trailing Hartford by only five points with less than 40 seconds left, junior shooting guard R.J. Eytle-Rock dribbled the ball off his left foot and watched it bounce into the waiting hands of Hawks guard Traci Carter, who was fouled and converted a pair of free throws.

It was that kind of outing for Eytle-Rock and the Retrievers, whose usually reliable offense disappeared during critical stretches of a 70-63 setback to America East Conference foe Hartford at the UMBC Event Center in Catonsville.

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Senior forward Brandon Horvath, a West River resident and Southern graduate, scored a game-high 18 points and also led the team in rebounds (11) and assists (four) to register his fourth double double of the season and first since Dec. 13 against Coppin State. But UMBC (9-3, 5-2) labored to reach 63 points, its second-lowest output of the season trailing only a 62-point effort in an eight-point loss to Georgetown on Nov. 25.

While Eytle-Rock’s miscue might stand out because of the timing and circumstances, coach Ryan Odom refused to single out that development as a turning point.

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“That was one play,” he said. “We had a lot of those plays throughout the game where we couldn’t grab the ball. We didn’t make the tough, winning plays that you need in a hard-fought game to deserve to win, and Hartford did. Hartford grabbed the ball, they got extra shots in there. We got stops a couple times, and then No. 20 [redshirt senior guard Austin Williams] rolls in there and he just lays it into the basket on a tip-in. That can’t happen if you’re really trying to win. You’ve got to block out, you’ve got to finish the play. When we spread the court out, we made some solid plays there and in transition, but overall, we did not make the winning plays that we needed to have a chance to win.”

In a matchup between two of the three best America East teams, the Retrievers’ No. 3 offense struggled against the Hawks’ No. 2 defense. UMBC had plenty of opportunities, launching 61 shots, its second-most this season.

But the offense converted only 36.1% of those attempts and was particularly dreadful from 3-point range, making only 21.4% (6-for-28) from long distance.

“We were a little too 3-point-happy,” Odom said. “We don’t like to shoot that many threes in a game. But every game kind of takes a life of its own, and you’ve got to work your way through it.”

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The Retrievers outscored Hartford 16-12 in the paint, but missed some crucial layups and other short-range shots that they typically make.

“We kept getting it near the rim, and we were rushing some of them,” Odom said. “We just didn’t put it in the basket. What shots we had out on the perimeter didn’t go down either.”

Carter, a transfer from La Salle, and Williams, a transfer from Marist, paced the Hawks (9-5, 6-3) with 16 points each, and Williams collected a game-best 13 rebounds for his second double double of the season. Sophomore power forward Miroslav Stafl had 14 points and eight rebounds before fouling out with 46.5 seconds left.

In addition to his scoring, Carter finished with six assists, five steals and three rebounds, earning a measure of Odom’s admiration.

“He made a lot of the right plays — whether dropping it off to the big guy or making his own shots,” Odom said of Carter. “He was unselfish, I thought. His defense was exceptional. He had five steals in the game and averages just under three. So that was a really good game for him. … He did what a senior guard should do. He was clearly the difference in the game.”

Eytle-Rock finished with 13 points, three rebounds and three assists, but three starters in senior point guard Darnell Rogers, junior shooting guard L.J. Owens and senior power forward Dimitrije Spasojevic combined for only seven points on 2-for-16 shooting, five rebounds, two steals and one assist.

“I wouldn’t say that any of them played above their level, and I’m not just talking about those three,” Odom said. “I’m talking about our whole team. I coached below my level. I can coach better. Certainly coming out of the game, we feel like we can play better than the way we played. But you have to be realistic, too, in that Hartford had a lot to do with it. So we can’t just chalk it up to us having a bad day. They made us have a bad day. So what are we going to do about it? The cool thing for us is, we get to play again tomorrow. We feel like we’ve got a good team. We didn’t play like a good team today, a championship team, but we’ve got a chance to do it again tomorrow, and we’ve got to be ready.”

Whether Owens will make his 12th start Sunday afternoon against the Hawks is a question mark. The Annapolis resident and Severn graduate was injured during a collision with a Hartford player and stayed on the floor for a couple minutes. He walked off the court with 11:38 left, but did not return.

Odom, who described Owens as “a little bit foggy,” could turn to junior Keondre Kennedy or senior power forward Daniel Akin or even junior Jacob Boonyasith, who scored 12 points on 4-for-8 shooting from 3-point range on Saturday for the rematch. But Odom acknowledged the potential significance of Owens’ absence.

“Anytime you lose a guy that starts and plays significant minutes, yeah, it’s a blow,” he said. “But one of the strengths of our team is our depth and our versatility, and you saw a little bit of that today. Jacob Boonyasith comes in and plays a solid game for us and really kind of bailed us out of a really bad half with some shot making. He’s a good player. We’ll just have to see, and we’ll adjust from there.”

HARTFORD@UMBC

Sunday, 1 p.m.

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