UMBC beats Winthrop, 99-93, climbs into 4th in Big South

January 26, 1993|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Staff Writer

If there's such a thing as a must-win game in January, UMBC confronted one last night, and the Retrievers were smiling at the finish of their 99-93 victory over Winthrop.

Six days ago, UMBC (6-9, 3-3) was stuck with eight losses in its past nine games and not making much of its first season in the Big South Conference.

The Retrievers' situation improved with a victory over Charleston Southern last Saturday, and last night at the UMBC Fieldhouse they completed a three-game homestand by outlasting the Eagles (8-7, 2-3) in a game that matched the highest-scoring teams in the conference.

UMBC plays its next three games on the road, and the Retrievers leave tied for fourth place in the conference. A loss would have put them in seventh.

"This was a crucial game for us," coach Earl Hawkins said. "If you want to have any chance in the conference tournament, you can't play that Wednesday night game [a March 3 Big South tournament opener between the eighth- and ninth-place teams]. This one helps."

The consecutive wins were the first for the Retrievers since they beat Washington College, Coppin State and St. Mary's. When they play at Campbell Saturday, they'll be looking to win three straight against Division I competition for the first time since in nearly two years.

The Retrievers got 20 points from senior forward Brian Watkins and 15 and 10 rebounds from junior center Sonique Nixon, but the deciding factor was their guard play. Point guard Dana Harris and junior wing Skip Saunders picked a fine time to break out of recent slumps, as Saunders had 17 of his 19 points and Harris 10 of his 13 in the second half.

Saunders was the conference's three-point shooting leader two weeks ago, but he finished the homestand 2-for-11. He instead ventured inside to score three straight baskets five minutes into the second half. UMBC was clinging to a three-point lead when Harris hit three in a row, the last two from three-point range for an 84-77 spread with 5:05 left.

"Nothing was really going for me from the outside, so I tried to go inside and create some things," said Saunders, who made nine of 11 free throws.

The Retrievers could have had an easier time if they had hit their free throws, as they were 26-44 and Harris was 1-8 at the line. Depth was a favorable factor for UMBC, which wore down Winthrop to 41.6 percent (32-77) shooting. The Eagles got 25 points from sophomore guard La Shawn Coulter, but Nixon limited big man Eddie Gay to 13 points, four below his average.

Winthrop needed less than eight minutes to build a 27-15 lead, before the Retrievers found the tempo to their liking and went on a 13-2 roll of their own to get within 30-28.

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