UMBC basketball coach Earl Hawkins says his team lacks the killer instinct at this point in the season.
That's a tad understandable, considering that the Retrievers had dropped five straight before last night's 82-63 drubbing of St. Francis, Pa., before 1,057 at the UMBC Fieldhouse.
But when things have gone the way they have for UMBC (2-7), killing an opponent isn't entirely necessary.
The Retrievers didn't exactly play a scintillating game, in knocking off the Red Flash (5-3), which at this point last season was starting a run to their first NCAA tournament bid ever.
UMBC only shot 42 percent from the field, committed 20 turnovers, and gave back half of a 24-point second-half lead with enough time to make the game interesting.
But the Retrievers used pressure defense, effective inside play and overall athleticism to start 1992 in fine fashion.
"I'm glad for the guys," said Hawkins. "I think it's a big morale boost. We lost some tough games that could have gone our way."
Indeed, the Retrievers have dropped four of their seven games by 10 or fewer points, including a two-point loss to Loyola. Even their loss at Illinois before Christmas was only a 13-point decision.
This time, UMBC opened the game with a 16-5 run, shut down the Red Flash for nine minutes bridging the first and second halves and used two late technicals against St. Francis coach Jim Baron to finish off the win.
"They played a very good game and they just beat us," said Baron, a former assistant at Loyola. "We turned the ball over too many times."
The Retrievers pressed the Red Flash all over the court, and particularly once they crossed midcourt, thus forcing St. Francis to launch its offensive sets much farther away from the basket than it wanted.
In addition, UMBC, which started a five-game homestand, overplayed the passing lanes, so that when St. Francis would try to pass out of the traps, there would usually be a defender to either intercept or deflect the pass.
"They did the same thing to us last year [in a 79-69 St. Francis win]," said Baron. "But we lost four seniors and four starters and 75 percent of our scoring from last year."
The Retrievers got back on offense and nailed key early jumpers, as reserve freshman forward Stanley Wright hit three three-pointers to go along with three crowd-pleasing dunks for 17 points.
Junior Derell Thompson and sophomore Sony Nixon also controlled the inside, as Thompson, who missed his first free throw of the night to end his consecutive string at 25, had 17 points and seven rebounds, and Nixon had 12 points and eight boards.
Still, the contest nearly got interesting late, after UMBC had taken a 24-point lead with 11:38 left.
St. Francis, which had gone without a field goal for 9 1/2 minutes during the middle of the game, reeled off 18 of the game's 25 points to trail 66-53.
However, when Antoine Patterson was called for a foul after the St. Francis bench had screamed for a foul call on the other end, Baron, who never had been ejected from a game in his four-year career, drew two immediate technicals and was tossed.
UMBC converted all six free throws and a subsequent basket.
"If I don't speak up for our players, then who will?" said Baron. "I thought he [the official] should have made the call, and then I challenged him right in front of our bench."
"They were big, no doubt about it," Hawkins said of the technicals. "That gave us eight points. I'll take them any time. I've gotten a few [technicals] in my time."