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Men’s basketball team’s exhilarating season helps bring school together

This men’s basketball season ended with the team’s furthest ever post-season run, reaching the semi-finals of the CollegeInsider Tournament. The Retrievers hosted Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi Islanders in the RAC in a heated game that brought out 1,388 fans. UMBC ultimately fell 61-79 after a messy second half. However, the UMBC faithful were still reeling with pride during the post-game, showing an increased sense of school spirit.

As an avid fan of UMBC basketball during my time as a student here, I can definitively say that each game I have gone to this season has seen increasing support. This rise in school support for the basketball team led up to an amazing fan atmosphere in the CIT semi-final game, which was played over national television on the Columbia Broadcasting System.

I talked with various students before the game. Spirits were consistently high, with many UMBC students coming out to watch the basketball team for their first time at UMBC. Sophomore Edward Cornish had to say, “I didn’t think of this as much of a basketball school, but I’m warming up to it.”

Similarly, ex-cheerleader Marina Congedo noted, “It’s nice to see more fans coming out, especially more students.” While I spoke with Congedo, she added that it is invigorating to see not only more people coming out, but a louder atmosphere where students were not only attending, but also getting involved with the game and making noise.

Not everybody I talked to was fully sold on where the UMBC atmosphere is at right now. “It could be better,” stated sophomore Justin Reed. “It has the right idea in mind, it’s just not as organized as it could be. They could be a lot more creative about getting the crowd into it, we don’t really have that.”

There is plenty of merit in what Reed expressed. While the atmosphere at basketball games this season was way more involved than it has been in years past, there is no central fan section or noise generation happening. The bulk of the established fan culture comes from the UMBC pep band, who show up inspired for all of the games the team goes to, but is only a small section whose chants are self-contained.

Reed’s own chapter, Pi Kappa Phi, regularly brings out great attendance for the games and plenty of noise, but there is no consolidation among the student body in getting a consistent Division 1 NCAA atmosphere going.

Still, for a school that, only last year, had next to no support, the current student involvement is phenomenal. In head coach Ryan Odom’s first season, he not only turned around the team’s record, but also the general interest among the student body. With the new stadium opening in the next few years that support is sure to grow.

Junior Daniel Eiskant, a member of the pep bad who has made every game this season, put it very passionately. “Hard work and determination have characterized this team through the year. It’s great to see so much support in the stands and I’d like to see that going into next year, especially with the new stadium opening up, we’re going to be a sports school soon.”

The game itself was a thriller in terms of energy, both on the court and in the stands. The scoring opened up, for the last time, with a three point shot by senior forward Willy Darley. The Retrievers put their foot on the gas pedal through the first half and managed to end the half with a solid five-point lead. Still an erroneous second half for the Retrievers and a consistent opening to the second half for the Islanders quickly turned the lead around to a ten-point lead. The Retrievers could definitely feel the loss of junior guard Jairus Lyles, who was inactive this game due to injury.

As the Islanders continued hitting their shots to maintain their lead, the men’s basketball team continued fighting and, almost as importantly, the Retriever faithful stayed loud and excited to continue motivating their team to fight. Junior guard K.J. Maura and freshman guard Arkel Lamar, in particular, showed plenty of hustle and fight down the stretch to keep the Retrievers in the game. They both attacked the paint and played hard on defense to make turnovers happen.

Ultimately, though, the Retrievers would fall on national TV. The final seconds saw a heart touching moment where Darley would be subbed out for his final time with the Retrievers. The fans gave him a sensational sending off with a standing ovation and plenty of noise. The Retrievers three post-season wins in the CIT tournament are not only the first three in school history, but also the longest run by any America East Conference team in a post season tournament.

Half a century ago, my father, back in the small village he came from in Lebanon, officiated the inter-village basketball matches due to his impartiality. In a country with few cultural ties in a time marked with uncertainty around the globe, these games were important in bringing together the various villages and, more importantly, creating a sense of pride in one’s own hometown.

Nowadays, I am blessed I get to cover sports such as the Retriever basketball team, as a reporter in a similar, impartial role. In the same way that my father could see a budding sense of pride in his community, I also can see that sense of Retriever fever blossoming on UMBC’s small campus.

For a lot of students at UMBC, it can be hard to go out and be a part of something. The simplicity of sports allows them to bring people together and have an easy commonality. If coach Odom’s team can continue to find success, students will continue being shown incentive to come out and be a part of the fastest growing show in the AEC, where black and gold are suddenly in fashion.