CAA contender Hofstra went into Drexel’s home on Sunday afternoon and all but tore the Daskalakis Athletic Center down to its foundation, dismantling the Dragons 81-57 in a game that was never in doubt.
And it was Kone who was swinging the proverbial sledgehammer, going 10-of-10 from the floor en route to a career-high 23-points, to go along with six rebounds and two blocks to move the Pride into a tie with their vanquished foes for fifth place in the CAA at 8-6, two games back from first place.
Kone’s performance, which included high-flying slams and an array of low post moves, was the most made field goals without a miss for a Hofstra player since 1998-1999 season and quite possibly longer (credit for cluing us in belongs to Hofstra’s super fan).
America East Commissioner Amy Huchthausen was kind enough to answer some questions regarding recent expansion, potential future expansion, the new men’s tournament format, and this season being about so much more than on-court activities.
UMass-Lowell was the first new member added to the conference in 10 years when they joined before the 2013-2014 season. What made them a good fit for the conference?
The institutional profile of UMass Lowell was very attractive to our members. It’s an institution whose academic profile is on the rise in areas such as enrollment, student success and research and that was paramount to our presidents in considering a possible new member. Furthermore, the plan presented to transition its athletics program to Division I was very comprehensive. It was clear the UMass Lowell understood the commitment required to not just reach Division I, but build a foundation for sustained success.
What does the growing ESPN partnership mean for the future of the conference? Where do you see that partnership in five years?
We’re currently in the midst of a five-year agreement with ESPN. This partnership has proven to be very positive for our league, particularly as ESPN’s digital platform has grown over the past few years. ESPN is a leader in technology, which allows our games to be accessed by fans, alums, prospective students and recruits everywhere and at any time. This means you don’t have to be constrained to a certain time and place to watch our games like you do with other regional or national networks that do not have a robust digital experience like WatchESPN. It’s really important for us to expand our reach as far and wide as possible, especially since our teams recruit nationally and even internationally, and I believe ESPN has been a successful partner in that regard.
Would you consider asking conference teams to play at a more in-opportune time in order to get a game on a main ESPN channel, i.e. at 2 a.m. or 4 a.m. during the 24 hour tip-off marathon?
We routinely work with ESPN and our schools on unique scheduling opportunities. Many variables are considered in events like the ESPN Tip-Off Marathon and we’ve been fortunate to have had a presence a few times in the event’s history. Our teams do a great job in scheduling key nonconference opponents that position them for additional exposure. With the growth of conference networks like those in the SEC, Big Ten and Pac-12, games against teams in these conferences improve a team’s opportunity for a linear television appearance and our coaches understand how important that variable is when building their schedules.
For the second straight season, NJIT played two games each vs Maine, UMASS, Lowell, and UAlbany. Is NJIT being considered as a possible addition, either for basketball only or a full member, to the conference? Are any other Northeast schools being considered for addition to the conference?
We’re always evaluating the overall landscape of college athletics to make sure the America East is in the best possible position for the future in all aspects. Discussions about membership always have been, and will continue to be, confidential among our leadership.
The switch to the new conference tournament format for men’s basketball created some controversy when it was announced last year. How would you address some of the concerns, such as fans potentially traveling many miles over a long period of days, as supposed to spending a few days at one location?
We’re extremely excited to debut the AE Playoffs for our men’s basketball postseason. Our coaches have been pushing for this format for years and, to their credit, they worked really hard on their recommendation to get it unanimously approved by our ADs. The new format will bring some of the madness of March to several campus sites, rather than just one location. It rewards those teams – and fans – who have earned their way to the top of our standings by bringing the postseason to them for each round. It adds a new incentive for teams during the regular season which has already made it that much more intriguing and exciting. I think this will be really evident as the regular season progresses as teams fight for one of the top four seeds and the right to host at least one game at home.
Were neutral sites considered for hosting the men’s tournament? If so, what variables kept that from happening?
We studied a number of different formats in evaluating our future tournament options. Ultimately, our athletics directors unanimously supported our coaches’ recommendation, which led us to the playoffs format.
Why the decision to change the men’s format, but not the women’s, which is scheduled to be held at Binghamton this year?
Our women’s basketball coaches continue to support the current format, which is coming together for the quarterfinals and semifinals at one site, followed by the championship game at the highest remaining seed. Men’s and women’s basketball are similar yet different, and it’s important to our athletics directors to support them each in a way that provides the best experience for our student-athletes. Binghamton is a great host community that really supports its program and the America East. I’m looking forward to a fun and competitive tournament in the Events Center and I know our women’s teams are looking forward to returning there in March.
Obviously, the conference has seen more tragedies than perhaps any other season, notably Sue Hooley, Josh Speidel, and Nate Fox. People always say things like that put things in perspective; what has this season been like for you, for the conference, against the back drop of such tragedies?
Our basketball teams have definitely been impacted by tragedy and life-changing events more this year than in the past. It does – and should – give you pause about the really important things in life, things more important than wins or losses. That said, it’s a great reminder to cherish how fortunate we all are to be involved in something as special as college athletics. The expressions of support by many of our teams for Peter, Josh and Nate along with their programs demonstrate that our teams really get this, and respect each other both as competitors and as part of the broader America East community.
Northeastern’s David Walker has been the team’s “Ironman” for the past two years as he is on pace for his second straight season of over 1,100 minutes played. The junior guard’s grit and toughness was on full display on Thursday when he didn’t sit for a second in the Huskies’ 79-68 road win over Hofstra.
Walker played all 40 minutes and stuffed the stat-sheet with 20 points, eight assists, three rebounds, two steals and a block. Northeastern ((17-9, 9-4) needed his performance to stay in second place in the ultra-competitive CAA in which six teams have seven or more conference wins.
“I’m kinda tired,” Walker admitted after the game with a smile of satisfaction. “I have to expect that sometimes, I think T.J. (Williams) got in foul trouble early so coach needed me to step up. I just played as hard as I could for all 40 minutes.”
Senior center Scott Eatherton put up a game-high 24 points and nine rebounds with two blocks and junior Quincy Ford added 15 points and five rebounds as the Huskies shot 56 percent from the field, including 65 percent (13-for-20) in the second half.
“We were just aggressive as a team,” Walker said. “I have to thank my teammates for finding me and I have to thank them for making the shots when I pass it to them, so all the credit to my teammates.”
Hofstra (16-10, 7-6) was led by Juan’ya Green’s 18 points and 10 assists. Rokas Gustys and Malik Nichols played well off the bench with 13 and 12 points, respectively. The Pride never had a lead in Thursday’s game.
“They were tougher than us when they had to be,” Hofstra coach Joe Mihalich said. “Walker was the toughest guy on the floor. You can talk about Eatherton all you want — he’s terrific — but Walker, we have no answers for him because he gave it to us twice now. It was all about his toughness, he was just tougher than all of our guys.”
Hofstra made runs in the second half, but Northeastern had answers for each of them. The backbreaker came with under four minutes left when the Pride cut the lead to 62-58. The Huskies came up with a defensive stop and then milked the shot-clock on offense until Ford knocked down a three-pointer off an inside-out pass from Eatherton to put the game out of reach for good.
“That’s something we’ve been struggling with these past couple of games—when teams make runs, we kind of have trouble stopping them,” Eatherton said. “So this was a good step for us, we really handled them whenever they got on a run. We were pretty mentally-tough tonight.”
Walker was the key to the Huskies staving off any runs down the stretch with his strong perimeter defense and poise on offense.
“Davey’s so essential to what we do,” Northeastern coach Bill Coen said. “He’s got a great basketball-IQ, he’s always poised under pressure. When he plays well, we play well because he makes good shots for us but he also gets a lot of people involved and he’s a tremendous passer.”
Walker’s poise and toughness this season hasn’t gone unnoticed by his teammates.
“He’s been doing great this year, he’s always looking for teammates, it’s always get the ball to teammates first,” Eatherton said. “Sometimes we could use him to be more aggressive, but he was able to balance both tonight.”
Still, as Northeastern chases a CAA championship, contributions are needed from the entire team, so it doesn’t look like anyone feels sorry for Walker’s lack of rest.
“He’s used to it, last year he played even more minutes than he’s playing this year,” Eatherton said with a smile. “He’ll be alright.”
Prior to this season, Stony Brook was tabbed as the America East-favorite in the coaches’ poll for the first time in program history. That was despite the Seawolves losing four starters due to graduations and transfers, despite five newcomers who would all see significant playing time, and despite the toughest schedule the team has ever faced.
The Seawolves had some bright spots during their non-conference schedule, but their light has dimmed a since the start of conference-play. Stony Brook’s youth and inexperience were on full display on Saturday night when they blew a 17-point second-half lead at home and suffered a 57-48 loss to Vermont. The loss sent Stony Brook to 15-10 and 6-4 in the America East, a far cry from where the team was expected to be at this point in the season.
But was it fair to put any expectations on a team with five freshmen and a slew of players thrust into significant roles after hardly seeing time on the court prior to this year? Whether it’s fair or not, Stony Brook head coach Steve Pikiell is well aware that those expectations exist and he doesn’t shy away from them.
“Nine underclassmen,” Pikiell said when asked what’s the biggest issue facing his team. “We lost four starters from last year, so we go through some stretches where we struggle to score a little bit. When our offense doesn’t get rolling then your defense is affected, sometimes that’s the sign of a young team—where they let that affect the other end of the floor. We’re 15-10, that’s who we are right now, everyone thinks we should be [better] and I sometimes laugh about it because we lost four starters from last year. We’re a new team with five new freshmen, a bunch of guys who didn’t play much last year, so we really are a new basketball team. We’re young, and you have to go some of these tough times.”
Stony Brook held Vermont (14-10, 9-2) to 15 points on 14.8 percent shooting in the first half, but surrendered 42 points on 72.7 percent in the second. After taking a 38-21 lead with 14:30 left, the Seawolves’ offense screeched to a halt as they missed 14 of their next 18 shots to close out the game. Pikiell gave full credit to Vermont for its poise in being able to pull off the comeback.
Still, Pikiell feels he is still waiting for his players to put a full game together, but thinks they have shown signs of being a good team throughout the season.
“You saw in the first half, we’re a pretty good basketball team, they couldn’t score on us. We’ve had games where we’ve been really good, and unfortunately we’ve had some bad games. We played as good as you can play against Western Kentucky, against Columbia, and obviously at Washington, we’re down 16 points and win a game against a ranked team,” he said. “We’ve shown some signs, way more than last year — I didn’t have one game last year that I said, ‘Boy, we played really well.’ I was always waiting for that great game where everything came together, so we’ve had a few more of those moments this year than we did last year, and with a younger team.”
The loss is Stony Brook’s second in a row after suffering a 63-48 shellacking on the road against New Hampshire a week ago. As teams are coming out with more intensity to face the preseason conference-favorite, Pikiell thinks the Seawolves are having trouble matching that intensity.
“People are jacked up to play us, and we’ve got to raise to that level,” he said. “I’m trying to get a young group to raise to that level; they don’t understand that New Hampshire hasn’t beaten us in a while, so they’re gonna give us [a tough game]. Today, obviously disappointing, you have to get back off the mat, but we didn’t play well enough for 40 minutes to get the win today against a good team.”
Stony Brook’s stars Carson Puriefoy (15 points, four assists) and Jameel Warney (14 points, 15 rebounds) performed well on Saturday, but no other player scored more than four points, echoing the problems with consistency that have plagued the team’s newcomers. But confidence has never been an issue for Pikiell, and the ever-positive coach thinks the best has yet to come for the Seawolves.
“I have a lot of confidence in this team, I really do, I think this is a young team that’s gonna get better and better. Last year we could put teams out there with a lot of experience. This year our first five subs are all freshmen or guys who just started playing this year,” he said. “They’ve got to live through it and get through the ups and downs of the season. They’ve been good in practice, they’re great kids, so I feel really good about this team. We’ll keep plugging and we’ll be ready for that tournament run. I think this team has the ability to be really good.”
Three years ago, Ethan O’Day flew under the radar as a talented but raw recruit for Vermont while Jameel Warney drew heavy attention as a highly-touted recruit for Stony Brook who could be one of the best players the America East had seen in a long time. Warney turned out to be everything he was advertised to be, winning conference Rookie of the Year, followed by the conference Player of the Year award last year, while O’Day took his licks as he developed his game.
Now, O’Day is a bona fide star for the Catamounts, and if there were any doubts to his status he put them to rest when he carried Vermont to a 57-48 road win over Stony Brook after trailing by 17 points in the second half. O’Day scored a game-high 17 points, including a four-minute stretch late in the game where he scored eight straight to lead the Catamounts’ ferocious comeback.
“When Ethan O’Day stays on the floor, he’s the best big in the league,” Vermont head coach John Becker said. “That’s as good as I’ve seen him. He had inside, outside, right, left, any way you want it. It’s great to see and it’s great when he’s confident, because he is a talented kid and I wouldn’t trade him for anyone.”
With Warney playing with three fouls in the second half O’Day went right at him, driving right into his chest for hook shots and layups and then stepping out for a 19-foot jumper on a pick-and-pop.
“I was struggling offensively early even in the first half, I wasn’t getting the ball where I wanted it,” said O’Day, who also finished with nine rebounds. “Then teammates started to get the ball in good places in the second half, spaced the floor around me and worked off me well. It just seemed like the floor opened up for me. Once I got a few shots to go, I just got more confident and just kept going right at him.”
Vermont improved to 14-10 and 9-2 in the conference while Stony Brook fell to 15-10, 6-4. Brandon Hatton added 12 points off the bench for the Catamounts, including a late three-pointer from the corner that sealed the game. Carson Puriefoy led the Seawolves with 15 points and four assists and Warney added 14 points and 15 rebounds, but was held to 6-of-18 shooting from the floor.
Since last season when he poured in 16 points in the second half in a loss to the Seawolves, it seems as if O’Day plays with an extra edge when he plays against Warney. In his past four games against Stony Brook, O’Day has averaged 15 points and 7.5 rebounds with Vermont holding a 3-1 edge over its conference-rival.
“I feel like we always go at each other, we kind of counter each other,” O’Day said of his play against Warney. “He’s so big and I try to front him, and we play great team-defense against him. He always seems to get his, he’s such a great rebounder, he’s tough to box out. But I think he got in foul trouble late there, and my teammates just found me in the right spots and I was able to use my quickness against him.”
The ever-humble O’Day might downplay it, but it’s evident there’s a true rivalry between him and Warney.
“He can drive, he can shoot, but the one time he delivered and I didn’t,” Warney said. “Hats off to him, because he’s a good player, but we’ll get better and we’ll be in that moment again and we’ll see who will be successful.”
Every great player needs a true rival for his “legacy,” and Warney has found that in O’Day as the two will be forever linked together until they graduate at the end of next year. O’Day’s Catamounts have held the edge against Warney’s Seawolves over the past two years, but whenever the two teams meet the bigmen will go at each other in the America East’s latest installment in the clash of low-post titans.
And the way O’Day and Warney ferociously battle each other, it’s the fans and media pundits who are the true beneficiaries as they get to watch the closest thing to the America East of the past, when giants roamed the floor.
As first reported by Matt Langone of the Lowell Sun, and confirmed by numerous sources, UMass Lowell red-shirt freshman forward Jahad Thomas will miss the rest of the season with his second torn ACL in as many years – injuring the opposite knee to the one that cost him his true freshman year.
At 6’2” and 230 pounds, Thomas ranks second in the America East in scoring at 14.3 points per game and fifth in rebounds at 6.5 boards per contest, 52.3 percent from the floor, and had emerged as a dynamic, dominant scorer despite being massively undersized at the power forward position, demanding double and triple teams on a nightly basis.
Thomas landed awkwardly with just 45.9 seconds remaining of a 76-69 loss at Binghamton, a game in which he scored 20 points, pulled down 10 rebounds, and added two assists and two steals in 32 minutes, and had to be carried from the court by multiple teammates.
Through the first 39 minutes and 14.1 seconds Saturday, Thomas had looked like a lock for the America East Rookie of the Year award, and, statistically, had made an excellent case to earn First Team All-Conference honors as a freshman. Now he will miss the rest of the season, and quite possible a chunk of next year.
With Thomas, the River Hawks had rattled off a 9-13 record – just one fewer win than all of last season with seven games remaining. Without Thomas – the team’s epicenter on offense, backbone on defense and toughness, tenacity and heart – the team may struggle to win another contest.
C.J. Gettys leapt into the air off of two feet, lifting the entirety of his frame off the hardwood – no small task at 7-foot-1 and a listed 275 pounds (and quite possibly more.
Gettys stretched his arms high above the hoop, before slamming the ball through the cylinder with such force that it brought the entire base of the basket support off the ground, leaving the backboard swaying for a full minute after the authorities dunk and seeming to shake even the farthest quarters of Matthews Arena.
It was an impressive sight to witness, and terrifying event to feel standing underneath the hoop. The problem was, that it came an hour before tip-off on Jan. 5, and once the ball went up against Northeastern, that C.J. Gettys was nowhere to be found, finishing the game with just two points in eight minutes of action for UNC Wilmington.
But he’s been showing up a lot more ever since.
“He’s getting better everyday,” said UNC Wilmington head coach Kevin Keatts.
Despite his mountainous stature, Gettys’ biggest obstacle, according to Keatts, was that he hadn’t understood, let alone embraced, just how big he could be on the court.
“When I first took the job, C.J. Gettys really thought he was 6’2”,” said the first year head coach during Tuesday morning’s CAA coaches conference call.
According to Keatts, while Gettys’ numbers of 5.1 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 15.8 mintues per game are hardly as huge as the player behind them, the Findlay, Ohio native has begun to make a much more sizable impact on the floor.
“He’s a guy that’s improving every game. He’s starting to get points,” said Keatts.
Through the Seahawks first 12 games, Gettys scored nine points or more just once, but in UNC Wilmington’s last 10 games, he’s reached or surpassed that number four times. In a 69-65 win over a resurgent Towson on Jan. 24, Gettys proved to be one of the difference makers, scoring nine points, pulling down nine rebounds and stuffing two shots, while throwing his weight around in the paint. One game later in a 82-65 home win against Elon, Gettys scored nine points on 4-of-6 shooting including a big slam dunk early on that energized the Seahawks and their fans.
“He’s been a really good energy guy for us, he’s the one who gets the crowd going at home,” said Keatts.
But according to Keatts, Gettys can still play bigger, a lot bigger, and he will be key to the Seahawks NCAA Tournament hopes in march.
“Now he’s playing like he’s 6’7″ — I’m really trying to get him to play like he’s 7-feet tall,” said Keatts.
The common belief around the college basketball world late last summer was that whoever walked through the doors at the TD Arena to take over the College of Charleston men’s basketball program was going to be walking into a buzz saw on day one.
The Cougars were coming off of a stretch that had seen three head coaches (including interim Mark Byington in 2011-2012) come and go in the previous four seasons, with Bobby Cremins departing the program due to health issues, and his replacement Doug Wojcik having been fired in early August due amid allegations of verbal abuse towards players and staff.
So when Earl Grant was announced as the program’s 23 head coach of all-time, many around the CAA and college basketball at large assumed he was going to be in for a long season. Fast forward to the three-quarter mark of his first season, and Grant doesn’t have many wins to his name – CofC stands at just 6-17 on the year and 1-9 in league play, good for dead last in the league standings.
But Grant has also found a way to keep an incredibly young team (CofC has 10 underclassmen on its roster, with sophomore Canyon Barry and Joe Chealey leading the team in scoring) together, all pulling in the same direction.
“I have a lot to be happy with, said Grant, 37, during Tuesday morning’s CAA coaches teleconference.
According to Grant, the goals for year one weren’t to win a league championship – not that they don’t think they have a shot to make some noise in the winner-take-all CAA Tournament in March – but rather to win each day in practice by working together to get better.
“I want to look like a team that’s moving in the right direction as we build with this young group,” said Grant. “[And to] learn to master our system.
CofC is currently riding a five-game losing streak, but despite the end results, they clearly look like a team that is “moving in the right direction,” having lost all five games by four or fewer points, including two-point losses to CAA contenders Northeastern and UNC Wilmington.
And according to Grant’s peers around the league, the Cougars are making noticeable strides in the right direction.
“All you’ve got to do is look at their (Charleston’s) scores,” said William & Mary head coach Tony Shaver. “They’re playing everybody right down to the wire.”
Grant’s focus over the team’s final eight regular season games is to make strides on the defensive end of the court.
“The most important thing is the spirit, defensive tenacity and rebounding,” said Grant. “The biggest thing for my team, that I really would like to see is, I just want us to play with great defensive tenacity, in the half court defense. Just be really solid, don’t give up easy baskets, challenge shots, rebound the first miss.”
And according to Grant, if the Cougars can do that, big things will come in the future.
“[We’ll] Look like a team that can win a championship.”
Sue Hooley, the mother of Albany junior guard Peter Hooley, passed away Friday night in Australia after a courageous fight with colon cancer at the age of 52.
The news came as the Albany basketball team on their way to Bangor, Maine, where they played against Maine on Saturday afternoon. Albany head coach Will Brown received the call he had been dreading a couple of hours away from Maine, and broke the news to the team upon arrival.
“The majority of the team was shocked when I told them,” Brown said according to Times Union reporter Tim Wilkin. “Sam and Mike (Rowley, also from Australia) knew. I think most of our kids were caught a little off guard. They were holding out hope that she was going to make it. This isn’t easy. I just wish the outcome was a lot different.”
Brown also said that he spoke with Hooley’s father, Jeff, who said that he hoped Peter would return to the school, and basketball, sooner rather than later. Brown said that it’s his understanding is that when Peter does return, Jeff and Peter’s twin sister Emma will come with him.
Hooley returned to Australia a little over two weeks ago to be with his mother after her health took a turn for the worst, a few nights after the Capital Region donated $12,000 in here support to the Cancer Council of South Australia.
Sue was diagnosed with colon cancer- or bowel cancer as they call it in Australia- over four years ago, shortly after Hooley had committed to the University to play basketball halfway around the world from home. Peter was originally reluctant to leave, but according to Hooley, Sue did not want to be holding her son back from pursuing his dreams.
While Sue was fighting very courageously, Peter was turning into the go-to guy for the Great Danes, leading the team to back-to-back America East conference championships and NCAA Tournament appearances in 2013 and 2014.
“God got an angel today. Thank you for making me who I am, and showing me what true strength is. You never gave up!! RIP mum, I love you xxx” Hooley said in a tweet Friday night.
Hooley also took to Facebook, saying “You never gave up. You never stopped fighting. You always put others first and you always loved us more than words. You were our guardian angel and you forever will be. You didn’t lose your fight, for every time I saw you smile while you were battling, it simply showed how you won each day. I love you forever. You’ve made me into the man I am today, and you’ve raised the perfect family, so for that I thank you. I know words can’t bring you back, but I know when I’m looking up at the sun, and get that warm feeling, that it’s just your arms around me. Rest in peace mum. I love you more than anything”
The outpouring of support for Hooley on social media has been remarkable, as his Tweet in remembrance of his mother has more than 360 favorites and over 100 retweets, and his fasbook post is nearing 900 likes and 200 comments.
Tweets and posts all over social media have also poured in to support the Hooley’s, with some people sending their condolences, others letting them know that they are in their thoughts and prayers.
Albany and its fans have adopted several hashtags in support of the Hooley’s, including #UnitedForSue, #WinForSue, and #HooleyStrong.
“Still at a loss for words. Can only hope the Hooleys know how many people are thinking of them tonight. #purplefam #hooleystrong” Tweeted Brian Fessler, an Albany “superfan” according to Brown.
“I hope @PeterHooley12 knows how big his family is. Thousands of people in the Capital Region are with him and his family right now.” Fessler said in a later tweet.
“Thank you to everyone for the support. We appreciate it all. You show just how beautiful the world can be. We will be strong just as mum was” Hooley tweeted on Saturday.
The University of Maine also recognized Sue with a moment of silence before today’s game.
“RIP Sue Hooley. You fought a courageous battle. Thoughts and prayers to the Hooley Family. We will take great care of @PeterHooley12!” Coach Brown tweeted, which fans appreciated with over 75 retweets and almost 100 favorites.
In a now famous speech at the ESPY Awards, late ESPN anchor Stuart Scott, who passed away earlier this year battling cancer, proclaimed: “When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and in the manner in which you live.”
And in that same spirit, Sue Hooley definitely beat cancer.
With only seven players in their rotation, every play was magnified and each possession was paramount for UMBC basketball. But despite a near herculean effort, a paper-tin margin for error, coupled with too man turnovers and sporadic scoring sealed a critical conference loss, 68-56, against Binghamton.
“Turnovers were huge and we didn’t get enough possessions to win the game,” UMBC head coach Aki Thomas said. “We started the game off with seven early turnovers. That ballooned into 10 of 11 [turnovers] and we were lucky to be down but nine points at halftime.”
Freshman point guard Jourdan Grant and Sparrow’s replacement in the starting lineup, Ben Grace, each put up career-highs in points. Grant led the team with 20 and Grace posted 17.
But the team would only get what the starting five gave them. Freshman forward Jakob Stenhede was the only player to come off the bench for the Retrievers and he failed to score in just nine minutes of action.
Cody Joyce led UMBC with nine rebounds and the team tied a season-high 10 three-pointers in the contest. But UMBC in was out-scored, 38-18 in the paint and failed to contain Binghamton’s Willie Rodriguez and Marlon Beck, who posted a combined 24 points.
“It was important to stop them (Rodriguez and Beck). They are the catalyst for their team,” Thomas said. “Beck does a good job getting into the paint, getting touches and finding teammates. Willie Rodriguez is coming into his own. He’s a young player with a ton of potential and he’s starting to figure out how to play at this level.”
Throughout the contest, Joyce was double-teamed by the Bearcats and both his early touches and scoring opportunities were heavily contested. Held to just eight points, Joyce adjusted to the pressure and became a facilitator. Joyce demonstrated his ability to locate teammates and frequently used touch passes to create rapid ball movement for the offense.
Down by nine with 1:50 left in the first stanza, Joyce found Grant, who slashed through the lane and took a hard foul as he converted the lay-up and the added free throw to pull UMBC within seven, 29-22.
During the first half, the Bearcats held a 19-point lead but the intense effort of the Retrievers kept them in competition.
Although UMBC was out-manned, they refused to be out-played and out-hustled. With 10 seconds left before intermission, Devarick Houston crashed the boards and rocked the rim with a monstrous two-handed slam. His emphatic dunk electrified the group and gave the Retrievers momentum going into the break, despite trailing 33-24.
From the onset, the Retrievers played aggressively and sustained a ferocious tempo. Led by the high-flying Houston, UMBC attacked the ball relentlessly and momentarily turned the tide.
Contrary to their opening half, UMBC scored early and protected the ball coming out of the break. At 15:40, Grant and Houston connected for a dazzling alley-oop. Grant, who leads the America East with just over four assists per game, spotted Houston crashing to the rim and placed it perfectly for him to catch it in the air.
In the first five minutes of the second half, UMBC scored 11 points. Nine of those 11 points came from beyond the arc. Grace, a walk-on now thrust into a starting role, nailed back-to-back three’s to trim the deficit to just four, 36-32.
“Ben (Grace) is a very smart player. He knows how to pick his spots and his teammates have confidence in him,” Thomas said. “It was good to see him break out for a solid performance. He’s a great shooter and he’s capable. We’re going to need more from him.”
Grace contributed five of the 10 UMBC 3-pointers.
But UMBC wasn’t able to control the boards and surrendered five critical offensive rebounds to Binghamton. UMBC was out-rebounded 19-17 in the second half and 34-33 for the contest, but Thomas explained that it was the timing of Binghamton’s rebounds that was the difference.
“I’m not satisfied with our rebounding,” Thomas said. “I thought they [Binghamton] had offensive rebounds at inopportune times and a couple of those offensive rebounds came in key moments when we needed a stop.”