Before last night's game against Delaware, UMBC coach Earl Hawkins fretted about the Blue Hens' size up front and experience.
All the Retrievers did was rack up a 49-43 advantage on the boards. They also shot a season-best 49.3 percent from the field. The statistic Hawkins will remember, however, is the 34 fouls called on his team, the most in UMBC's 23-year history and a key ingredient in Delaware's 103-101 overtime victory before 1,064 at the UMBC Fieldhouse.
Fouled by junior forward Dion Andrews with two seconds remaining, senior guard Rob Jackson made two free throws to decide the issue. It came 10 seconds after Retrievers center Sony Nixon made one of two attempts at the line to force the tie at 101, as Andrews, 6 feet 5, was called for defending an entry pass to Jackson, 5-11.
"I don't usually criticize officials, but there were a lot of petty calls in that game," Hawkins said. "It wasn't just the last call. Some of those calls can't be made in a basketball game. We lost a big lead in part because we should have taken better care of the ball, but it also hurt that we had some key people on the bench at the end."
Three UMBC players fouled out, including starters Derrell Thompson and Brian Watkins. Delaware was given 44 free throws, making 27, but 6 of 12 in overtime. In a closely called game, the Retrievers were 22 of 36 at the line.
Delaware is a big, experienced outfit favored to win the North Atlantic Conference, but the Retrievers nearly overcame their inexperience and a height disadvantage. It was a game both teams tried to give away, as UMBC wasted a 12-point lead with 12 minutes, 35 seconds left and Delaware blew an 86-81 advantage with 1:10 left in regulation.
Against a UMBC team with no seniors, Delaware's fourth-year players were a key, as forward Alex Coles had a career-high 27 points and 11 rebounds, swingman Mark Murray had 18 and Jackson got the decisive points. Junior center Spencer Dunkley had 17 points and a game-high 13 rebounds.
UMBC got 23 points and nine rebounds from Nixon, who forced the overtime by sinking two free throws with five seconds left in regulation.
Delaware never trailed in overtime, but UMBC had a chance to go ahead with 12 seconds left, when Nixon converted one of two free throws for a tie at 101.
Down 88-85, Saunders was given three free throws with 11 seconds, but could only hit the middle attempt. Thompson controlled the rebound, however, and Nixon made two free throws with five seconds left to force overtime.
Tied at 49 with 17:34 remaining, UMBC did everything right at both ends over the next five minutes, taking a 68-56 lead on Thompson's jumper from the foul line. Saunders' three-point play began the 19-7 run. The Blue Hens got back in the game in a hurry, using seven points from Anthony Wright during a 13-2 spurt that brought them within 70-69 inside nine minutes. Freshman Brian Pearl gave Delaware a 73-72 lead 6:58 left, and the Blue Hens stretched it to 86-81 with 1:10 remaining on two free throws by Murray.