As graduate-forward Joe Sherburne stood on the court at the UMBC Event Center in what was perhaps his final game at his home stadium, he thought to himself, “this cannot be the way my career ends,” which he also recalled after the game. This is because Sherburne found himself in the midst of what could have been one of the worst collapses in playoff basketball history. The Retrievers had their backs against the wall, and they were staring the end of their season directly in the eyes.
It was a much different feeling than it had been earlier. The Event Center was previously rocking, as fans barraged the Hartford Hawks with jeers. “You have five points,” melodically reigned down from the stands as Hartford was being dominated in every facet of the game. This was during an impressive 11-0 UMBC run, their second large run in only eight minutes.
UMBC began the game on an 8-0 run before Hartford scored on consecutive possessions to bring the score of the game to 8-5. It was then that UMBC began their next run. It looked as if the Hawks were lost on the court, as the Retrievers continued to stifle them on offense, and pick apart their defense. Eventually, UMBC would extend the lead to 20 with 3:37 left in the half, and they would end the half with a 37-18 lead.
Early on in the second half, things did not seem to get any better for the Hawks. They shot an air-ball on their first possession, and UMBC kept running up the score. Freshman-guard RJ Eytle-Rock subsequently hit a three-point shot, junior-center Sam Schwietz made a layup and junior-guard KJ Jackson made a three-pointer to give UMBC their largest lead of the game at 26 points.
At that moment, fans seemed certain that the Retrievers were destined to play in the America East title game. But, those aspirations were put on hold. After a timeout, Hartford began to speed up their offense, beginning to play with a feverish pace. They also switched their defense to zone coverage, which began to stifle the Retrievers’ offense. They would have eight empty possessions in a row, giving Hartford a 10-0 run over roughly 7 minutes.
Overall, Hartford would outscore UMBC 35-13 over 13 minutes, which would lead to Hartford shooting free-throws with 16 seconds left in regulation. They would drain both free-throws and take a late 68-67 lead. With 3 seconds left in the game, Jackson went to the basket for a layup that would’ve given the Retrievers the victory, but he was fouled in the process. He went 1/2 from the line, sending the game to overtime with the score at 68-68.
The first overtime of the game went by like a flash. Players from both teams were visibly tired, but neither team was willing to budge. They traded baskets up until the very end of the period when Hartford took the lead with 15 seconds to go. Sophomore-forward Brandon Horvath would drive to the basket with 8 seconds remaining, and draw a foul on his way. He made both free-throws, and Hartford failed to score at the other end, sending the game into a second overtime at 76-76.
The second overtime was much more eventful than the first. UMBC started the period by making two straight layups to give them a 4 point lead. Hartford would follow up by making two free-throws before UMBC brought their lead back to 4 points with another layup. Things then got interesting, as Hartford hit a three-point shot to cut their deficit to just 1 point. After a Horvath layup, Hartford would hit another three-point shot to tie the game with 1:54 to go in the game. After trading free-throws, the teams would be tied 85-85 with 1:13 left.
After two free-throws from Horvath, UMBC would finally be able to put the game on ice. As Hartford attempted to tie the score once again, Jackson would leap up in the air, swatting away a shot attempt by a much taller Hartford player. He would then drive to the basket, where he would be fouled, making the subsequent free-throws. After two Eytle-Rock free-throws, the game would come to an end as Hartford failed to convert in their final possession of the game, and the team would rush out onto the court to celebrate, as they would be moving on to the America East Championship.
A total of five UMBC players would score double-figures on the evening, led by Jackson and Eytle-Rock. Jackson scored 21 points, with 8 rebounds. Eytle-Rock scored a career-high 16 points, with 8 rebounds. Sherburne notched a double-double with 12 points, 12 rebounds and 7 assists. Horvath and junior-forward Arkel Lamar also scored double-figures.
The Retrievers will play next on Saturday, March 16 as they take on the Vermont Catamounts in a rematch of last year’s championship. The game will be televised at 11 a.m. on ESPN 2.