Last ECC whistle stop arrives for Retrievers

March 09, 1992|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Staff Writer

It ended with UMBC's Skip Saunders throwing up two prayers, both from three-point range, both of which went unanswered.

It ended with Hofstra coach Butch van Breda Kolff watching from a hospitality room window, a floor above the action.

It ended with the shriek of an official's whistle and a string of disqualifications as five players -- three from UMBC -- fouled out.

In a game of diminishing returns, Hofstra outlasted UMBC, 77-74, yesterday at UMBC Fieldhouse to gain a berth in tonight's East Coast Conference tournament championship game against Towson State. The Tigers reached the final with a 90-77 victory over Rider.

UMBC's semifinal loss signaled the end of the Retrievers' topsy-turvy, 10-19 season and of their two-year affiliation with the disintegrating ECC. Next season they will compete in the Big South -- with significantly higher expectations.

"I hate to keep saying next year," UMBC coach Earl Hawkins said, "but next year this team should go through these situations [and win]. We have seniors for leadership, and they know what it takes.

"The last eight games, our team really started to do what I thought it would do earlier. Our system of motion offense and pressure defense is a two-year system. It's not going to happen in one year, but we're better at it than we've been."

Hofstra (20-8), meanwhile, is thinking of the more immediate future. The Flying Dutchmen can only hope that van Breda Kolff sticks around longer tonight than he did in yesterday's semifinal.

Van Breda Kolff, 69, drew his second technical and automatic ejection with 15:11 left in the game. Although he had gotten down on his hands and knees and placed his forehead on the court over one call he disagreed with, there was no display of emotion on the technical that got him ejected.

He refused to say whether he thought the ejection was justified, but Joe Dunleavy, the Hofstra assistant who took over for van Breda Kolff, admitted surprise at the turn of events in a tournament game.

"It's not my place to say anything critical, but I was surprised by that," Dunleavy said. "It was an unfortunate thing, but we were able to overcome it."

Hofstra, the regular-season champion, survived with a tournament-tying 11 three-point goals, five by Keith McMillan. The senior guard scored 23 off the bench, 16 in the second half, to take some pressure off Demetrius Dudley. Dudley scored 21, but shot 4-for-12 against UMBC's sagging man-to-man defense.

"Our whole defensive scheme was to play off him a bit," said Brian Watkins, who checked Dudley along with Derell Thompson and Artie Walker. "They spread their offense against us in the first two games, and we decided to play off to take away the back-door cuts."

McMillan was able to take advantage where Dudley could not. In the space of 63 seconds in the second half, he hit three straight three-pointers, as Hofstra built its biggest lead of the game, 61-51. UMBC, led by Thompson's 17 points and Watkins' 15, chipped away and got a 69-69 tie on an inbounds layup by Dana Harris with 1:07 to play.

McMillan hit a running one-hander in the lane with 45 seconds left and was fouled. He completed the three-point play. At 72-69, Hofstra had the lead for good. The Flying Dutchmen held on by hitting five of their last six free throws.

After Dudley hit the last two free throws to make it 77-74, UMBC had eight seconds to attempt a tying three-pointer. Saunders quickly launched a shot over two defenders, hitting the rim, and got a second desperation chance when Watkins rebounded and kicked the ball back out. The second shot hit only air.

"Down the stretch, if we stick our free throws, we would have put a lot of pressure on them," said Thompson, who scored 42 in two tournament games. "Our defensive scheme worked. We just came up on the losing end."

NOTES: UMBC F Dion Andrews was at courtside yesterday, wearing a neck brace. He suffered a cervical (neck) sprain while tumbling into a table during Saturday's quarterfinal win over Central Connecticut. . . . UMBC's Sonique Nixon had a tournament- and school-record seven blocks against Hofstra before fouling out with 3:56 to go.

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