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A tough winter for UMBC men’s basketball

The UMBC Retrievers men’s basketball team struggled to find success over the winter break, going only 2–8 between December 19 and January 24, including their most recent 79–72 defeat on the road against the University of Vermont Catamounts. Their only two victories during this stretch came against the University of Maryland Eastern Shore Hawks on New Year’s Eve and against the University of Maine Black Bears on January 9, both of them at home.

Overall, the UMBC Retrievers men’s basketball team is struggling. Sitting at 5–16 overall this season, the Retrievers 1–5 record against America East opponents puts them in a tie with the Binghamton University Bearcats for last place in the conference.

On a positive note, the Retrievers’ victories came by an average margin of 13.5 points. The Retrievers suffered painful losses as well, in the eight defeats, five came by a margin of 10 or more. Of the three close losses, two stand out as particularly heartbreaking; a three point loss on the road against the New Jersey Institute of Technology Highlanders on January 2 where UMBC blew a 12 point lead and came back from a 12 point second half deficit, and an overtime loss to the University of Massachusetts Lowell on January 16.

During the rough stretch, the Retrievers averaged 80 points per game, bringing their season average to 72.6. The Retrievers made an impressive 47 percent of their shots in the 10 games during the break. The real struggles occurred on defense. The defense allowed an average of over 86 points per game. In all seven of their eight losses, the Retrievers allowed their opponents to make more than half of their shots. On the season, opponents shot 49 percent against UMBC, more than any other defense is allowing in the America East. Only two more teams are giving up a higher percentage of three point shots than the Retrievers. Only the University of Massachusetts Lowell River Hawks and Maine are giving up more points on defense in the conference this year.

As for other bright spots, sophomore guard Jairus Lyles leads the team in scoring since making its season debut on December 19 at the Howard University Bison. Lyles is averaging 26 points and 5.9 rebounds per game through his first 10 games, eight of them in the starting lineup. Fellow sophomore guard Rodney Elliott averaged 14.4 points per game during the break, including scoring in double figures in eight of 10 games and four games in which he scored at least 20 points.

Even if they are able to win the rest of their games, the Retrievers have a steep hill to climb in order to claim their second regular season conference championship in school history. The Retrievers face only conference opponents going forward with more home games than road games, but they have to pass seven other teams to finish in first place. Any chances of UMBC entering the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008 depends on their ability to win the America East Tournament in March.