To find the most exciting basketball in town, you don't have to look farther than UMBC Fieldhouse. But exciting doesn't necessarily mean wins -- as the University of Maryland Baltimore County has demonstrated in the past week.
For the third straight game, the Retrievers found themselves in a tight game in the final minutes, only to come up short again last night, a 73-66 loss to the College of Charleston before 906 at the fieldhouse.
Against the top independent team in Division I, UMBC shot 33.9 percent from the field -- 25.8 percent in the second half. Despite that, the Retrievers were down by two points with 46 seconds left in the game, but came away with the same result as last week's 103-100 overtime loss to Delaware and Saturday's 89-88 loss in the final seconds to Radford -- both at home.
"It's frustrating. You'd think we'd have enough luck to pull one of these out," said coach Earl Hawkins. "We're not playing these games against easy teams. They have veteran leadership -- something we don't have but have to find a way to get."
Now 11-1, the College of Charleston has the leadership. Playing a smothering man-to-man defense, the Cougars had their biggest lead, 60-48, after a layup by Chris Jackson with 5 minutes, 16 seconds remaining.
But that was the last field goal of the game for Charleston, which scored its final 13 points from the free-throw line and made 22 of 27 in the second half. The Retrievers, applying full-court pressure, cut the lead to 66-64 after a jumper by Skip Saunders with 46 seconds left. But the Cougars made seven of their final eight free throws down the stretch for the win.
"We've faced some real good defensive pressure, but not as good as what we saw [last night]," said College of Charleston coach John Kresse. "After a few close losses, you would think a team would be lethargic. But that was not the case. It was very hard for us to move the ball at the end."
Early in the second half, the Retrievers got two good looks at the basket in the first 10 minutes, and both resulted in open foul-line jumpers by Brian Watkins and Saunders, two of the Retrievers' three field goals during that span. Still, Charleston had a 48-45 lead with 10 minutes left.
"In the second half, we came out with our own brand of man-to-man," Kresse said. "It made us more alive after the first half."
Charleston had a 12-3 run that concluded with a layup by Jackson to give the Cougars a 60-48 lead with just more than five minutes left. But that only set up the frantic final minutes.
In the first half, the Retrievers went to their inside combination of Sony Nixon and Watkins in jumping to a 5-0 lead in the opening minutes. But after misfiring on their first five shots, the Cougars responded with a 16-2 run to take their biggest lead, 16-7, just under eight minutes into the game.
With five minutes left in the half, UMBC trailed, 27-21. But the Retrievers defense picked up, helping to outscore Charleston by 16-7 for the rest of the half on the way to the 37-34 halftime advantage.
The difference in the first half was UMBC's five of eight three-pointers. The Retrievers shot 41.9 percent from the field in the first half.
COLLEGE OF CHARLESTON (11-1) -- Madden 5-9 5-6 15, Cofer 3-11 5-8 11, Jackson 2-7 2-3 6, Dunbar 1-4 4-4 7, Beckett 4-7 5-5 13, Thunm 3-7 2-2 8, Busby 4-6 2-4 13. Totals: 22-51 25-32 73.
UMBC (2-12) -- Thompson 4-14 1-3 10, Watkins 3-11 3-4 9, Nixon 5-12 7-8 17, Harris 1-2 2-2 5, Saunders 3-9 2-2 9, Ferguson 3-5 2-5 9, Wright 1-6 0-0 3, Andrews 0-1 1-2 1, Walker 1-2 0-1 3 Totals: 21-62 18-27 66.
Halftime--UMBC, 37-34. 3-point goals--Charleston 4-7 (Cofer 0-1, Dunbar 1-3, Busby 3-3), UMBC 6-15 (Thompson 1-6, Harris 1-1, Saunders 1-3, Ferguson 1-1, Wright 1-3, Walker 1-1). Rebounds--Charleston 47 (Madden 12), UMBC 28 (Thompson 6, Watkins 6, Nixon 6). Assists--Charleston 14 (Beckett 4), UMBC 12 (Harris 4). Total fouls--Charleston 20, UMBC 20. Fouled out--Charleston 2 (Jackson and Thunm). A--906.