By Corey Johns
Everything came together for UMBC men’s basketball on a snowy afternoon in Catonsville Saturday. In game being aired nationally on ESPN3, with plenty of alumni and former players in attendence, the Retrievers got everything last ounce out of everybody they to beat Maine 73-66 in the RAC Arena.
All five Retrievers starters reached double-digits, pushing UMBC to nearly 20 points above their 55 points per game average for just its second 70-plus point performance of the year.
Cody Joyce led the Retrievers with 16 points and Malcolm Brent and Will Darley each nailed three 3-pointers in their 15-point efforts.
“We talk about trying to be at our best this time of the year as we try to prepare for the conference tournament and it looks like we’re trying to play our best basketball right now,” UMBC Head Coach Aki Thomas said. “It’s good to see five guys in double figures and consecutive stops in the second half. As the game got close we played the situation well.”
Fighting to stay out of the bottom of the America East basement, neither team ever truly separated itself from the other on the day. Early in the first half, UMBC led by as many as nine points following a three by Brent in a 10-2. But Maine struck back, going on a nine-point run to tie the game with 9:41 remaining in the first half.
Powered by an assault on the glass, and unconscious shooting from freshman Kevin Little, Maine took a nine-point lead with 3:30 left before halftime. Little was 3-for-3 in the first half and the Black Bears out-rebounded the Retrievers 19-9 during that stretch.
But UMBC’s ability to get inside and either finish or draw a foul kept them in the game. A 9-2 run made it just a two-point game before a floating layup by Till Gloger made it a 35-31 Maine advantage at the break.
UMBC was able to keep the game close despite being manhandled on the glass by executing their inside-out offense. The team made five three’s in the first stanza, three of those came from Darley, who going into the game made only six this season.
“You got to be able to shoot the ball,” Thomas said. “It’s nice to say we play inside-out but the ball has to go in. Guys have to honor shooters, that way we can spread the floor and get it inside to Cody.”
And they sure did.
Joyce led the team with 10 field goal attempts and also with six free throw attempts in his effort. And in the second half, Darley and Houston were able to get inside as well. Darley, who missed nearly a month and a half with a knee injury this year, has been coming on strong down the stretch. Darley’s 15 points and six assists were both career-highs, and he also added seven boards to help stem the tide on the glass in the second half.
“It helps having Will Darley out there,” Thomas said. “He’s smart, makes some shots and he was key in a lot of different ways. They did a decent job fronting Cody and trying to take him out of the game but I thought Will and Devarick flashed up to the high post, made some really good entry passes and made some shots.”
Jourdan Grant also contributed in areas he normally doesn’t, as the 6’2” guard ripped down eight rebounds to go along with his 14 points on 5-for-8 shooting and five assists.
The Retrievers shot 59.1-percent from the floor in the second half and made more than twice as many free throws as Maine attempted. They also beat Maine on the boards, 17-15, in the second stanza.
UMBC opened up the second half with back-to-back three’s from Houston and Brent. And after the Black Bears’ defense spread out to defend the perimeter, Joyce followed with a layup inside to give UMBC a 39-35 lead.
With 3:45 remaining, Little hit a fast-break layup off a steal by Aaron Calixte to tie the contests at 57 a piece. But on the next possession Brent missed a three, only to have Darley corral the offensive board and kick it back to Brent for the layup to retake the lead. Darley followed it up with two made free throws following a defensive rebound off a missed jumper by Little a few seconds later.
UMBC did not miss a shot, from the field or the line, for the final 3:23 and converted 10-straight free throws down the stretch.
Houston was the fifth Retriever to reach double digits, scoring 10 points. But where he really shined as on the defensive end., setting a new career-high with five steals while constantly matched up against either Zarko Valjarevic or Little, two of Maine’s biggest offensive threats, and allowed only nine points during the entire game on shots taken against him.
“He can guard anybody,” Thomas said. “We always put him on somebody we feel can blow the game open against us and he never lets us down. It’s great when he can play like that and shut people down. Zarko and those guys are more than capable of blowing the game open.”
UMBC has just two more regular season games remaining on their schedule. On Wednesday they will host Albany in their final home game of the year before traveling to Binghamton for their regular season finale.