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UMBC men’s basketball stumbles for fifth time in six games in 69-53 loss at George Mason

FAIRFAX, VA. — No one may be looking forward to Christmas more than the UMBC men’s basketball team.

Short-handed by the absence of four scholarship players and drained by their third game in seven days, the Retrievers faded in a 69-53 setback to host George Mason before an announced 3,458 at EagleBank Arena.

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Junior forward Dimitrije Spasojevic paced UMBC (6-8) with 15 points and six rebounds, but the team never held a lead in its fifth loss in its past six games. UMBC will have nine days off until its next game against Penn State York on Dec. 30 at 1 p.m. at the UMBC Event Center in Catonsville, and coach Ryan Odom said the layoff will be crucial for the team to get healthy before the America East portion of the schedule begins Jan. 4 against UMass Lowell.

“It’s hard when you’re taking some losses, and guys are in and out,” he said. “They play one game, and they don’t play another. It’s hard to get some continuity. That’s who we are right now. We can’t shy away from it. We’ve just got to keep working and keep hoping that we’ll be healthy at the end.”

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The Retrievers played without several key contributors. Sophomore guard R.J. Eytle-Rock, who had returned from a seven-game absence because of a pair of lower-body injuries and had started the past two games, was out, and senior forward Max Curran, who had started the three previous games, missed his second straight game because of an unspecified ailment.

Injuries sidelined senior forward Arkel Lamar and junior guard Darnell Rogers for the seventh consecutive game. And sophomore guard Jack Schwietz appeared to roll his right ankle with 4:06 left in the second half.

The Retrievers played their third game in seven days, but Spasojevic downplayed the notion that he and his teammates may have been exhausted.

“We’re kind of used to going back to back, playing games,” he said. “I’m not really tired personally, and I think right now, we’ve just got to take our time off. It’s probably going to benefit our bodies, but as soon as we come back, we’ve got to get to it and work hard and try to figure out how to win.”

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Meanwhile, the Patriots played their first game since Dec. 7 when they defeated American, 68-53. And they looked refreshed as they scored the game’s first nine points, prompting Odom to use a timeout just 2:11 into the first half.

Odom noted that UMBC struggled early against George Mason’s full-court press.

“I think today was part nerves, just being a little bit unsettled,” he said. “When teams come out pressuring you like that, I thought we were a little bit casual, and we can’t be casual. We’ve got to attack. Our best teams have always attacked. That’s a characteristic of the team that we’re trying to create. It’s just not there right now.”

Patriots redshirt junior forward A.J. Wilson, who grew up in Laurel, said the team did not accumulate any rust during the two-week layoff.

“If anything, it helped us get better,” said Wilson, who had nine points, 14 rebounds and five blocks. “We definitely called this break between games a boot camp where we just worked on George Mason basketball — whether it be defensive rotations or offensive rotations, talking, things like that. So I feel like that played a big part in us getting going early.”

The Retrievers did claw their way back, using a layup by senior guard K.J. Jackson to tie the score at 17-17 with 7:42 left in the first half. But that would be the closest they would get to George Mason, which answered with a 9-0 spurt en route to a 31-24 advantage at halftime.

Any hope of a rally was dashed when the Patriots opened the second half with a 9-0 run for a 40-24 lead, and UMBC never got the deficit under double digits the rest of the way.

Sophomore guard Jordan Miller led all scorers with 17 points and added five rebounds and three steals. Junior guard Javon Greene and sophomore guard Jamal Hartwell II scored 14 points each.

George Mason coach Dave Paulsen wasn’t quite ready to call UMBC a weary opponent.

“It all depends on your perspective,” he said. “They might have been tired, but on the flipside, they played more recently. So [they might have been in] rhythm. But truthfully, I started watching UMBC early this week. So I don’t know even that much who they’re missing and who they are because our focus – like we told the guys – has been more about our team and what we need to get better. But I think that’s a dangerous team. I think they’re this far [spreading the index finger and thumb on his left hand about an inch apart] from really putting it all together, and I’m thankful that didn’t happen tonight.”

PENN STATE YORK@UMBC

Dec. 30, 1 p.m.

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