Down 18 points with 12:28 left to play, the UMBC Retrievers men’s basketball team had their backs against the wall. Their trademark shut-down defense had yet to show up on the evening, and the New Hampshire Wildcats were making hard three-point shots as they kept pushing further away from the Retrievers, leaving the 2,002 fans in the crowd relatively quiet as the room filled with nervous anticipation.
But a fiery speech from junior-guard KJ Jackson apparently turned things around for UMBC. The speech came during a timeout around the 12 minute mark. Jackson was talking “about guarding your man, not letting him go by you, and playing harder,” said graduate-forward Joe Sherburne after the game. From there, the Retrievers defense began to play visibly better, and they put on what was perhaps their best performance of the season.
With 12:48 left to go in the game, New Hampshire made a jumpshot to give themselves an 18 point lead. From there, the UMBC defense would shut down the Wildcats for the remainder of the contest. The Retrievers would only allow 5 points over the remainder of the game.
UMBC would capitalize on their defensive prowess, going on a 14-0 run over 7:52 to bring themselves back into the game. New Hampshire would break the run with 2:25 left in the game, giving them a 6 point lead. UMBC would immediately answer with a three-pointer from junior-guard Ricky Council II, sending the Event Center crowd into a frenzy.
With 58 seconds left in the game, sophomore-forward Brandon Horvath would bring the Retrievers within 1 point of the Wildcats. After a New Hampshire charge with 39 seconds left, UMBC had the opportunity to take the lead, but Jackson would be called for a charge as he drove to the hoop, giving New Hampshire the ball back, and sending Jackson to the bench with his fifth and disqualifying foul.
Entering the game to replace Jackson would be freshman-guard Jose Placer. After an intentional foul by Council, UNH would miss the one-and-one free-throw opportunity, giving UMBC the ball back with 11 seconds left.
Sophomore-guard Josh Rosario would bring the ball up the court to the three-point line, passing the ball to Sherburne. Sherburne was double-covered in the paint, so he passed the ball out to Placer, who subsequently fired a shot from the right side of the arch, which sailed through the net giving UMBC a 55-53 win with less than 2 seconds remaining. The team would eventually win by that score.
This win ended the Retrievers regular season campaign with an 11-5 conference record. UMBC will need Hartford to lose to Stony Brook on Tuesday to clinch the #3 seed in the America East tournament. If Hartford wins, the Retrievers will be #4.
The next game for the Retrievers will be Saturday, March 9 at the Event Center. They will host either Albany or UMass Lowell.