Coming home after a long road trip can be a panacea for a struggling college basketball team. It was nearly enough for the University of Maryland Baltimore County last night.
Nearly, but not quite.
The Retrievers, who spent the past two weeks away from the UMBC Fieldhouse trying to break a long losing streak, came close to ending it before losing to Hofstra, 69-63, for their 13th consecutive defeat.
The victory was the fourth straight for the Flying Dutchmen (8-7 overall, 3-0 in the East Coast Conference), who made 28 of 31 free throws. They hit their last 14 straight from the line, including eight in the final 44 seconds.
"That was the difference in the game, the foul shots," said UMBC coach Earl Hawkins, whose team made only eight of 10.
The difference was also Erroll Flanigan of Hofstra. Flanigan, a 5-foot-9 senior point guard, scored nine of his team's last 13 points and finished with a game-high 20. Former Milford Mill standout Derrick Flowers had 14. Stanley Wright led UMBC (1-14, 0-2) with 13.
Unlike some of their recent blowout losses -- including defeats of 26 and 51 points last week at at Maryland and Kansas -- the Retrievers never trailed by more than eight points last night.
If this game turned slowly against UMBC, the crucial moment came early in the second half. After trailing, 31-25, at halftime, the Retrievers climbed to within 37-36 on a three-point shot by Derell Thompson with 3 minutes, 56 seconds gone in the half.
Hofstra went its next five possessions without scoring, but UMBC didn't score again for nearly four minutes. By that time, the Flying Dutchmen scored five points on a single possession, and the Retrievers were still playing catch-up.
"We couldn't get over the hump," said Wright, who scored 11 in the second half. Said senior guard Bobby Mills: "We had all those chances to score, and we didn't. You've got to get better shots and take good shots when you get them."
Hofstra did. After UMBC cut a 55-47 deficit in half on a three-point shot and a free throw by Brian Watkins, Flanigan made a three-pointer. After Wright hit a 17-footer for UMBC, reserve guard Stephen Kiernan made another three-pointer for Hofstra.
Flowers, who had an otherwise steady game, gave the Retrievers a slight opening when he fouled Skip Saunders on a three-point attempt with 21 seconds to go and Hofstra ahead, 65-58.
Saunders missed the first free throw, made the next two but the Flying Dutchmen came back to seal the victory with four straight from the line.