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Jackson slays the dragons

The UMBC Retrievers men’s basketball team had been struggling this year. Going into Monday’s game against Coppin State, all UMBC guards were shooting around 30 percent combined for the season. The struggles of the guards culminated in a three-game losing streak, which the team snapped on Monday with a 71-60 win against Coppin State. This also marked a turnaround for UMBC’s guard corps as they shot 51 percent from the field behind breakout performances from freshman-guard RJ Eytle-Rock and junior-guard Ricky Council II.

On Friday night, the guards would shine again with an astounding shooting performance going 70 percent from the field. The effort was led by junior-guard KJ Jackson who, before the Coppin State game, was shooting an abysmal 28 percent in eight games.

Early on in the game, a win seemed like a foregone conclusion for the Retrievers. From the beginning of the game, it seemed as if they were overwhelming Drexel on both sides of the ball. Their largest lead of the half was only 9 points, but UMBC seemed to be keeping Drexel at a comfortable distance, and by the looks of things, the Retrievers seemed primed to cruise toward victory.

But, a run late in the first half would make the game much more competitive on Drexel’s part. The momentum began to shift in favor of the Dragons as they went on an 11-0 run, overtaking the Retrievers in the process. At the end of the run, the Dragons lead 39-32, and they would finish out the half strong as they lead the Retrievers 43-35.

The second half started furiously for the Retrievers as junior forward Max Curran drained back-to-back three-pointers to bring UMBC within 2 points of Drexel. Still, the two teams would go back and forth early in the second half, and the Dragons kept UMBC 5 points behind them as the two teams battled.

With 11:50 left in the game, junior forward Arkel Lamar made a jump shot that would kick-off an enormous run for UMBC. Over the next 3 minutes, Lamar would score 8 of his 15 points as the Retrievers went on a 14-0 run to give UMBC a 71-62 lead. The Dragons would not be able to dig themselves out of the hole created by UMBC’s run as Jackson scored 14 points over the last 7 minutes of the game. The Retrievers would go on to win the game 91-76.

On that night, Jackson scored 31 points going 13-17 from the field while adding 4 rebounds and 3 assists. Jackson blew out his previous career high of 20 points. Drexel fans are sure to remember Jackson for a while after this game, not just due to his offensive explosion, but also because of a controversial play at the end of the game. As the clock wound down, Jackson had the ball. With a 0.6 second difference between the shot clock and the game clock, Jackson shot the ball while wide-open from deep behind the right side of the arch. Jackson drained the shot, giving him his 31st point of the evening.

“You get at the end there and you don’t want to be the team that’s rubbing it in or anything like that,” said Coach Ryan Odom after the game. “At the same time, we were about to get another turnover, and I don’t like turnover.” Odom continued to assure that Jackson meant no disrespect by taking the last second shot, “[we were] definitely not trying to rub it in. I know [Drexel’s coach] and we have way too much respect for them and their team and how hard they work to have that.”

The Retrievers play again on Tuesday at the Event Center as they take on Towson University.