In the closing seconds of regulation against the America East Conference first-place University of Vermont Catamounts, UMBC Retrievers junior guard K.J. Maura’s three-point attempt served as the perfect metaphor for the Dawg’s comeback attempt: close but just short.
“As soon as I shot it, I thought it was going in,” Maura said. The Retrievers (16-9, 7-5 in AEC) ultimately fell to Vermont (23-5, 13-0 in AEC) in a thriller 77-74. Maura led all scorers with 22 points on 8-12 shooting.
The late season conference tussle could have easily taken place in late March. The 1,219 in attendance fans at the RAC often made their voices heard through vociferous boos, cheers. “It was pretty loud in [the RAC],” said UMBC senior forward Will Darley. “We fed off their energy for sure.”
The Retrievers began the game on fire, feeding off the raucous crowd to a 9-2 lead. Vermont then weathered the early storm, going on an impressive 9-0 run of their own to claim their first lead. Most of the opening frame reflected this back and forth nature with six ties and five lead changes. It looked like Vermont would pull away in the second half. The Catamounts outscored UMBC 30-17 in the first 12:13 after intermission.
Over the final six minutes, the Retrievers made a furious comeback, going on a 26-9 run to cut the Vermont lead to one with 50 seconds left in regulation. UMBC looked poised to tie or take the lead in the closing seconds, but could not find the bottom of the net.
Sunday’s game resembled the first meeting between these two teams until the waning minutes of regulation. The Catamounts used their tremendous roster depth and methodical pace to control most of the game. “They do a good job of staying between [players] and the basket,” UMBC head coach Ryan Odom said.
“You’ve gotta credit [Vermont] for the way that they play,” said Odom. Vermont held significant advantages in rebounding (46-24), second chance points (18-4) and bench points (35-17).
With one of the best defenses in the country, Vermont held the Retrievers to just 41 percent from the field. UMBC did shoot 36 percent from three point range, but the aggressive Cats defense held the Retrievers to 14 attempts from downtown. In particular, Vermont stifled leading scorer junior Jairus Lyles. The Cats held the Junior to 14 points on 6-18 shooting. Lyles did not make his first field goal until the 1:26 mark of the first half.
Darley was the other Retriever to score double figures on the day. Darley scored 13 points on 4-13 shooting along with five boards. Darley has now scored in double figures in seven consecutive games.
For Vermont, they showed why they are the class of the AEC. One of the most efficient offenses in the country (12th in field goal percentage), Vermont shot 50 percent from the field. What they lacked in three-point shooting (nine percent, that’s not a typo) they made up for at the foul line (26-39 FT’s).
Senior guard Dre Wills led the Catamounts with 22 points and 13 rebounds on 9-12 shooting. Three other Vermont player finished in double figures as well. Freshman forward Anthony Lamb had 16 points and three boards. Junior guard Trae Bell-Haynes added 15 points with five boards and five assists. Finally, junior forward Payton Henson finished with 11 points and nine rebounds.
The Retrievers now look forward to the final four games of the regular season. Their next game is Wednesday night at the University of Albany Great Danes (16-11, 7-5 AEC) at 7 p.m. and can be watched on ESPN3.