They held a post-game party at the UMBC Fieldhouse last night and, judging by the Retrievers' performance late in their game against Buffalo, the players did not want to be late.
How else to explain a second half in which UMBC had a 17-point lead with 12 minutes left, only to struggle to an 87-84 win before 1,277?
In winning, the Retrievers (5-12, 4-1 in the East Coast Conference) avoided tying a school record for consecutive home losses, ending a five-game home losing streak. UMBC also moved into second place in the ECC, a game behind Rider (10-7, 5-0), a winner over Hofstra last night.
"I'll take the win -- every win we can get is a good win," said UMBC coach Earl Hawkins. "But we have to really focus on taking people out. Seventeen points is not putting people away. We have to bury them and make them quit."
Sloppy ball-handling by the Retrievers and the hot shooting of Buffalo guard John Blalock enabled the Bulls to climb back. While UMBC was committing turnovers and hitting just four field goals in the last 10 minutes, Blalock was scoring 28 of his game-high 36 points in the second half, helping Buffalo pull within 85-82 in the final minute -- only to fall short in a bid for its first ECC win.
After shooting 50 percent in the first half on the way to a 45-31 halftime lead, UMBC opened the second half with a 21-14 run to take its largest lead, 64-47, with less than 12 minutes left. But then Blalock scored 10 points during a 14-3 run that cut the lead to 69-63 with eight minutes remaining. Blalock, whose previous season-high was 31 points, scored 22 in the final 11 minutes, which helped the Bulls pull within three after a three-pointer by Dean Schott with 29 seconds to go.
The Bulls (2-16, 0-7) had a chance to cut it to one after Brian Watkins committed a turnover on the inbounds pass after Schott's shot, but Blalock was called for charging -- negating a layup he made with 13 seconds left. Three seconds later, UMBC guard Skip Saunders made two free throws for an 87-82 lead, and a layup by Blalock with six seconds left ended the scoring.
"It's not a one-person job to defend [Blalock] -- our team has to defend him and we didn't give good help," Hawkins said of Blalock's late scoring. "He's a good player."
In winning, UMBC shot 50.8 percent from the field -- the first time this season the Retrievers have been above 50 percent. Saunders led UMBC with 27 points (8-for-14 from the field) for his second big outing against Buffalo. Nine games ago, Saunders scored a career-high 30 in a 103-80 win over Buffalo -- the first time the Retrievers scored more than 100 against a Division I opponent.