The sky was falling, or at least that was how it seemed. The UMBC Retrievers men’s basketball team took on UAlbany at the Event Center on Saturday, and things did not look pretty for the Retrievers. They entered the game missing key pieces from their rotation and were extremely shorthanded.
After tearing his meniscus on Tuesday, sophomore-center Daniel Akin had successful surgery to repair the injury, but he will miss the rest of the season. Reports say that sophomore-forward Max Curran is also out for the rest of the season with a wrist injury. Sophomore-forward and sixth man Brandon Horvath is day-to-day, and could miss “significant time” due to a hand injury. Max Portmann, who has yet to play this year, has shown no signs of returning to the court any time soon. So, the Retrievers are down four big men, leaving only redshirt junior-center Sam Schweitz, and senior-center Nolan Gerrity to play at the five spot.
Things would get worse for the Retrievers during the game. Junior-guard KJ Jackson, who is a vital offensive and defensive force for UMBC, would foul out with 3:26 left in regulation, making the Retrievers bench even thinner as they tried to cut down Albany’s lead.
UMBC trailed for much of the game on Saturday, but they never let the Great Danes get out of reach. They never trailed by double digits, but they struggled mightily to get a go-ahead basket. The game had a very slow pace, with many fouls called throughout, and was starved for action until the final minutes of the contest.
The Retrievers never lead in the second half, and as the clock winded down it seemed as if UMBC would be unable to overcome Albany, and end the game with a victory. But thanks to the tough defense of the Retrievers, they were right within reach when the game came down to crunch time. With 25 seconds left in the game, junior-guard Arkel Lamar came up with a huge steal, bringing the ball down the court and laying it in to tie the game at 55-55. On the other end, UMBC would run down the clock, not allowing Albany to get an open look at the basket, and graduate-forward Joe Sherburne would block a shot attempt to send the game into overtime.
The Great Danes would lead for much of the overtime period, just as they had the entire game. The Retrievers would go down by as many as 4 points, but freshman-guard Jose Placer would score 7 of the teams 10 points in the overtime period, leaving UMBC only down by 2 points with less than a minute to go.
With 9 seconds left in the game, the Retrievers found themselves still down by 2 points. They would bring the ball down the court, and Placer would pass the ball to junior-guard Ricky Council II in the right corner, and Council would immediately fire an arching shot toward the basket. The ball gracefully swished through the net, and the entire crowd of 1659 were brought to their feet in complete shock. Albany would misfire a three-point attempt, and Council’s teammates stormed him, picking him up to celebrate his game-winning shot.
This was a truly gutsy win for the Retrievers, having trailed for more than half the game, not having a lead since early in the first half. Not only were they shorthanded due to injuries, but two of their leading scorers were held to 5 points or less in Lamar and Sherburne. Placer saved the day for the Retrievers as he scored a career-high 22 points in 34 minutes off the bench. In the absence of Jackson, due to his foul troubles, this performance could not have come at a better time for the Retrievers.
UMBC plays again on Wednesday in Burlington, VT in a rematch of last years America East title game. The game tips off at 7, and will be streamed live on ESPN3.