The UMBC men’s basketball team made easy look difficult.
Armed with a double-digit lead after halftime that ballooned up to 25 points, the Retrievers allowed visiting George Washington to chip away at the gap until it was down to two points with 52 seconds left in the game. But UMBC scored the final nine points to pull away for a 92-81 victory Monday evening at the UMBC Event Center in Catonsville.
“It was pretty crazy,” junior shooting guard L.J. Owens said. “We had the lead for most of the game, and we came out at halftime and kept building on the lead. They just kept coming back, and we made a few mistakes. So it was definitely a little crazy, but we found a way at the end.”
Owens, who grew up in Annapolis, graduated from the Severn School, and transferred from William & Mary before the 2019-20 season, was one of four Retrievers to finish with double digits in scoring, leading the way with a game-high 20 points.
Senior forward Daniel Akin collected a career-best 19 points and nine rebounds, junior shooting guard R.J. Eytle-Rock chipped in 18 points, six rebounds and four assists, and senior forward Brandon Horvath (Southern-AA) posted 17 points, six rebounds and a team-high six assists.
UMBC (2-1) needed every single one of those points — and more — as they watched the Colonials use a 3-pointer by senior guard Maceo Jack to trim the deficit to single digits at 73-65 with 5:14 left in the game. That marked the first time George Washington had trailed by less than 10 points since the 39-second mark of the first half.
After the Retrievers regained a 10-point advantage with 2:09 remaining, the Colonials scored 10 of the game’s next 12 points to close the hole to 83-81 with 52 seconds left, forcing UMBC coach Ryan Odom to call a timeout.
“That was like a nightmare,” Odom deadpanned. “You’ve got to give credit to GW. I don’t like to talk about our mishaps or whatever, but they did a really good job of putting pressure on us and giving us doubt in our own minds.”
After the timeout, the Retrievers broke George Washington’s full-court press when Eytle-Rock heaved a half-court pass to Akin for an uncontested layup with 38 seconds remaining. Colonials sophomore guard Jameer Nelson Jr.’s 3-point attempt caromed off the front rim to half-court where Akin collected the ball and was fouled heavily by Nelson, who was assessed an additional technical foul with 27.4 seconds left.
Akin made his two free throws, and Owens went 1-for-2 on Nelson’s technical foul. Owens was fouled again, sank two free throws, and then punctuated the victory with a fast-break dunk with eight seconds remaining.
Akin scored 13 of his points in the second half and matched his career single-game high of five free throws in eight attempts. He made four in his last six trips to the stripe.
“That was the goal. I needed to work on my free throws,” said Akin, a career 40% shooter who is converting 57.9% (11-of-19) of his free throws this season. “Just going to the gym every day and getting as many reps as I can. I’m just trying to be more consistent.”
“Dan’s really worked hard at his free throws,” Odom said. “He’s more relaxed up there, and I think that shows. That doesn’t mean he’s got it figured out. He knows that he’s only as good as his last free throws, but he’s staying with his routine and all that. I thought he had an excellent game for us.”
Both teams found their offensive rhythm early. UMBC made five of its first seven shots, while George Washington went 4-of-7 for an 11-11 with just 4:14 elapsed.
The Retrievers began to pull away towards the midpoint of the first half courtesy of a 10-2 run over a 2:52 span powered by back-to-back three-pointers from Eytle-Rock. A layup by Horvath capped the spurt, forced Colonials coach Jamion Christian to call a timeout, and gave UMBC a 26-19 lead with 10:02 remaining.
George Washington tried to chip away at the deficit, but the Retrievers continued to maintain their advantage thanks to their long-range accuracy. When Owens (Severn School) hit a 3-pointer from the left wing at the 2:53 mark, that was UMBC’s seventh of the game, already eclipsing the team’s season high of six set in a 70-62 loss at Georgetown on Nov. 25. The Retrievers finished with 10-for-21 from beyond the arc.
The Colonials (1-3) also had four players score 10 or more points. The group was led by sophomore guard James Bishop, a Baltimore resident and Mount St. Joseph graduate who contributed 20 points, six assists, three rebounds and two steals, and sophomore forward Jamison Battle, who had 19 points and four rebounds.
George Washington lost despite collecting 16 offensive rebounds to UMBC’s nine and committing only 14 turnovers to the Retrievers’ 20. The Colonials converted those takeaways into 20 points – a statistic that did not sit well with Odom.
“They did a really good job of trapping us, and they turned our turnovers into points pretty quickly and then all of a sudden, we were playing on our heels as opposed to – as we like to say – playing forward,” he said. “We did play forward a couple of times, but I kept saying on the bench, ‘Hey, they’re giving us what we need, but not necessarily what we want.’ Right now, they’re preparing us and helping us to learn about ourselves and clearly I haven’t done a good enough job of getting our guys ready for that type of pressure at the end of the game. So we’ve got to get to work on that.”
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