Controversy surrounded the end of the America East conference match-up between the UMBC men’s basketball team and the Maine Black Bears, however, through the first 39 and a half minutes of the game, that would be hard to imagine.
That is because the biggest storyline leading up until the closing seconds of the game was UMBC’s plague of injured big men. Senior-center Max Portmann had missed the entire season so far with a back injury, junior-forward Max Curran had season-ending surgery on his hand after missing the last few weeks, and sophomore-center Daniel Akin re-tore his meniscus and had season-ending surgery a few weeks ago.
As if their injury situation weren’t already bad enough, the Retrievers suffered two more setbacks as they headed into Maine for their game against the Black Bears. Sophomore-forward Brandon Horvath missed his second consecutive game with a hand injury that had left him day-to-day, and redshirt junior-center Sam Schweitz did not dress after suffering an ankle injury. This left the Retrievers with 10 men eligible to play on Sunday, only seven of which were players that they used in their regular rotation. So, the team played with a seven-man rotation.
Through the first half, the team played Maine closely, trading points with the Black Bears throughout the first frame of the contest. Though they held them close throughout the half, they were unable to take a lead throughout the first 16+ minutes, until taking a brief lead on a layup by junior-guard KJ Jackson. That lead disappeared seconds later. The back-and-forth scoring continued until the end of the half, which ended in a tie at 32-32.
Neither team scored in the opening minutes of the second half until Maine finally broke the tie with 17:32 left in the game. The Black Bears eventually amassed a 7 point lead, which the Retrievers quickly cut into with a 3-pointer by junior-guard Ricky Council II. But Maine would not let up. They allowed the Retrievers to tie the game three times in the half but never allowed them to take the lead through the first 17 minutes.
Finally, with 3:11 left in the game, UMBC found a way to pull ahead. Jackson fired a long three from the middle of the floor that bounded off the rim and fell back into the net to give the Retrievers 56-55. The Black Bears answered with 2 foul shots, but UMBC quickly got another 3-pointer from graduate-forward Joe Sherburne. Maine again made 2 foul shots, and Sherburne fired another three-pointer to give UMBC a 4 point lead.
After Maine missed 1/2 free-throws, UMBC made their fourth consecutive three-point shot, this time from Council II. With 13 seconds left in the game, it appeared that Jackson had sealed a victory, making 2/2 free-throws to give UMBC a 67-61 lead. But, Maine quickly made their way down the court for a three-point shot and stole the ball on the next inbound to make the score 67-66.
The controversy began on the following inbound, as Council was able to dribble out the remaining 1.5 seconds to win the game. Many people argued that Council was fouled, or he traveled at the end of the game, either scenario would’ve given the Black Bears the ability to come back and win. The Maine announcers were in disbelief on the broadcast, baffled that the game could end in that manner. But, it seemed as if Council remained untouched, and his pivot foot remained planted on the play in question.
The controversy continued as many sports gambling fanatics accused the Retrievers of point shaving. Point shaving is the theory that a team would allow another team to score so that the spread would not be covered. With Maine’s late scoring, gamblers believe that the team allowed them to do so. But anyone who watched the game could see plainly that Maine was just playing well and this was an utterly ridiculous notion.
Jackson and Sherburne led the team on the evening with impressive performances. Jackson led in points with 22, adding 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals. Sherburne scored 21 points, narrowly missing a double-double with 9 rebounds, adding 4 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks.
The Retrievers play next at Binghamton on Wednesday at 7 p.m. The game will be streamed on ESPN +($).