They arrived with memories of a blowout win on their home court over UMBC, but when the Nittany Lions of Penn State walked off the court of the Baltimore Arena last night they felt lucky to have survived.
After falling behind by 15 in the first half and with the possibility of a blowout in front of their home fans looming, the Retrievers came out determined in the second half -- and held a two-point lead with 12:51 remaining -- only to fall, 81-77, before 2,808 fans.
It was the third straight loss for UMBC (7-17), but coach Earl Hawkins could hardly fault the effort of a team that still had the memories of the 93-59 loss at Penn State Feb. 1 fresh in their minds.
"I'm very pleased with our determination and effort," said Hawkins, who was upset with his team's effort in Saturday's 113-103 loss at Towson State. "A lot of it has to do with confidence and believing you can win when you play with these types of teams. If you believe in yourself, and believe in your system, you'll be fine."
There was a lot of belief in the second half as UMBC hit 19 of its 29 field-goal attempts (65.5 percent). Forward Derell Thompson, who was coming off a school-record 43 points on Saturday, recovered from a six-point first half to score 17 in the second.
Trailing by 11 at the half, Penn State increased the lead to 45-32 after a jumper by Eric Carr on the Nittany Lions' first second-half possession. But it was 11 points by Thompson during a 19-4 UMBC run -- the final four points coming off a dunk and layup by Thompson -- that put the Retrievers up, 51-49, with 12:51 left.
That was the last lead UMBC had as Penn State went up by as many as seven, 75-68, after two free throws by DeRon Hayes with 48 seconds left. But a layup by UMBC center Sonique Nixon and a three-pointer by Skip Saunders had UMBC within 75-73 with 28 seconds left.
But Penn State, which shot 29 percent from the field (nine of 31) in the second half, was able to hit its final six free throws to seal the win.
Penn State guard Monroe Brown, a graduate of Aberdeen High who scored a game-high 30 in the first game, played all 40 minutes last night, scoring 10 points.
"I didn't think I was pressing," said Brown, who had two busloads of fans from Aberdeen come down for the game. "It just wasn't a good night."
"This is my first time playing in Baltimore and I was pretty excited," said the senior guard, who entered as Penn State's leading scorer (15.0 ppg). "I just wish I could have done better."
"We really thought it was going to be a tough game," said Penn State coach Bruce Parkhill. "I've been impressed with them [UMBC] all year because they're aggressive and they're a more athletic team than we are."