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UMBC Men’s basketball stays level over the winter

Over the winter break, the UMBC men’s basketball team continued their impressive play. As a result, the Retrievers (13-7, 4-3 in America East) are in the thick of the regular season conference championship race.

UMBC sits three games behind the first-place University of Vermont, who is unblemished in conference play. Head coach Ryan Odom’s club continued their impressive offensive play during the break. The Retrievers averaged 78.6 points in the 11 games over winter vacation, including two 100 point games. During that stretch, UMBC went a respectable 6-5 with a plus one point differential.

Throughout the break, UMBC established itself as one of the better offenses in the country. As of Jan. 30, the Retrievers rank 42nd out of 351 Division I teams in points per game. Advanced numbers are just as impressive, as UMBC ranks 49th in the nation in points per 100 possessions.

The defense, however, is as bad as the offense is good. UMBC ranks in the 200’s in overall and three-point field goal percentage allowed. Overall, the Retrievers rank 258th in the nation in points allowed and 243rd in points allowed per 100 possessions.

For the most part, the Retrievers leaned primarily on guard Jairus Lyles, senior forward Will Darley and senior guard Rodney Elliott. The three players have usage rates over 20 percent, with Lyles leading the pack at 29. Lyles continued his stellar play during the winter break. The Virginia Commonwealth University transfer averaged 18 points and eight rebounds per game with a .433/.321/.623 shooting line over the 11 game stretch.

Overall, the preseason All-Conference selection is tied for the league lead in scoring. Lyles recorded double figures in scoring in all but one game during the break. Lyles’ lone struggles were against Towson University Tigers on Jan. 17 and the University of Albany Great Danes on Jan. 16. The Tigers bottled up Lyles in the close victory, holding him to 11 points on 4-16 shooting. In the loss to the Great Danes, Lyles scored six points on 2-9 shooting.

Overall, Darley is having his best season to date. The elder statesman of the Retrievers is averaging career highs in points (15.0), two point field goal (58 percent) and free throw percentage (88 percent). His 23.3 percent usage rate is also the highest of his career. Over the winter, Darley averaged 17.5 points, 4.2 boards and 2.2 assists per game.

Darley and sophomore forward Joe Sherburne’s stellar three-point shooting (41 and 51 percent respectively) give ball-handlers Lyles, Elliott and junior guard K.J. Maura room to drive to the basket and create offense for themselves and others.

The Baltimore native played in seven games over the winter and averaged 8.1 points per game with a .514/.455/.647 shooting line. Maura averaged a steady 6.9 points and 5.2 assists during the winter. The junior college transfer also found success from long distance, shooting 38 percent from three point range. Both players provide evidence of the great guard depth UMBC has.

It is fair to say that the Retrievers leveled out after their surprisingly hot start in non-conference play. However, they still have a great chance to finish at the top of the league standings, secure a number one seed. From there, it would not be a shock to see UMBC win the America East tournament and earn their first trip to the NCAA tournament in almost a decade.