UMBC men’s basketball holds off New Hampshire, wins third straight
By Rich Scherr
Feb 15, 2020 | 7:08 PM
Decimated by an array of injuries this season, the UMBC basketball team finally appears to be on the mend. And, as America East opponent New Hampshire learned on Saturday, that's bad news for the rest of the league as the regular season winds to a close.
Facing a team that entered the day tied for the Div. I lead in defensive rebounding, the host Retrievers used a pair of big runs to pull away near the end of the first half, getting a game-high 19 points from senior K.J. Jackson and controlling the boards in a 65-59 win before an announced 2,602 at the UMBC Event Center.
The Retrievers (12-14, 5-6 conference), who have seen nine players miss time due to injury and used 13 different starting lineups, now have won three straight — their longest winning streak since opening the season 4-0 — and five out of seven. That followed a nearly disastrous two-month stretch in which they dropped 11 of 14.
"Our guys are finally just getting comfortable in understanding how we have to play, no matter who we're playing and what's going on," Jackson said. "We're starting to click… and we're on the same page every game. That's what you want from the beginning of the season, but it took us a little bit longer. But it's better to be clicking now than in the beginning of the season, anyway. I feel like we're on the right track. We've just got to keep going."
The win puts UMBC in sole possession of fifth place in the America East with five games to play, including a pair against conference front-runners Vermont and Stony Brook.
Given that, the team's recent push couldn't have come at a better time for fourth-year coach Ryan Odom.
"We're seeing them being more competitive on every play," Odom said, pointing to a pair of key sequences that may have otherwise been lost in the boxscore.
One came following a turnover, when Keondre Kennedy raced down the court to block a shot off the glass. Another came when L.J. Owens hustled to knock out of bounds an inbounds pass that likely would've led to an easy layup.
"Those are plays we weren't making earlier in the year," he said. "Why was that? Maybe we were depleted or tired, or we didn't know that we needed to do that. Now these guys are buying into that. We have more roster stability… and they know their roles a little more now than they did earlier in the season."
Trailing by three early, UMBC used a 14-2 run to break on top, building a 26-17 lead following consecutive threes by Brandon Horvath and Jackson. The Retrievers then later closed out the half with 11 straight points, taking a 37-24 lead — their largest at the intermission since Dec. 30 — when Daniel Akin put back Dimitrije Spasojevic’s miss under the basket as time expired.
It was one of 13 offensive rebounds for UMBC, which out-rebounded the Wildcats, 44-36.
"They beat us on the boards last time around, and this time around we just focused on boxing out as individuals and everyone crashing the glass, guards included," senior Ricky Council said. "Then once we get it, just push it."
"We knew it was going to be a war," Odom said. "There were going to be times within the game where if we allowed frustration to take over… that we couldn't get out of whack. We had to just kind of stay with it, and I thought I saw that today. For us to finish the half the way we did was huge. That run gave us a lot of confidence."
Jackson, a 6-2 guard, finished with seven rebounds, to go along with 10 off the bench for Spasojevic and 14 points and eight rebounds for Horvath.
Guard Marque Maultsby scored 15 points to lead New Hampshire (11-13, 4-7), which made just seven of 27 3-point attempts.
On a day when UMBC honored seniors Jackson and Council, Odom had high praise for the way they've helped hold the Retrievers together during unusually lean times.
“They’ve done a great job leading this team through some weird waters, which we haven’t necessarily been used to,” Odom said. “I would attribute how we’ve been playing recently to what they’ve brought from a leadership standpoint.”