UMBC defeats Liberty in Big South opener

January 08, 1995|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,Sun Staff Writer

Its first two regular seasons in the Big South Conference have not been kind to UMBC, but that trend may be about to change.

Last night, the Retrievers left the Big South starting blocks in grand fashion, defeating defending league champion Liberty, 60-57, before 1,022 fans at the UMBC Fieldhouse.

The hard-fought game was not settled until the final play when Liberty freshman Barry Taylor tried a three-pointer that rolled around the rim and out an instant before the final buzzer.

Improved shooting from the field (21 of 42, 50 percent) and TTC strong post defense on the Flames' dangerous duo of Jason Dixon and Peter Aluma swung the verdict to UMBC (3-7, 1-0), which won its first game over a Division I team (Boston University) by the same 60-57 score Thursday night.

"All four of our inside people played well," said Retrievers coach Earl Hawkins, meaning 7-foot-2 center Pascal Fleury and forwards Vladimir Milosevic, Chris Thompson and Matt Dressler.

"They were determined to hold their own, and we executed our defensive game plan. We wanted to make them [Dixon and Aluma] work for everything they got. The whole key was the defense."

Dixon, checked closely by Thompson and Dressler, managed only six shots and 10 points. Aluma, a strong freshman center from Nigeria, had 15 points, but shot only 4-for-11 from the floor.

"We just tried to deny them the ball. That was definitely our focus," said Thompson. "We wanted to stop the big guys and make the guards and small forwards take the shots."

Liberty (4-6, 0-1), which lost its fifth straight, all on the road, led early while UMBC struggled to find some offensive continuity. But the Retrievers scored 10 straight to go ahead 20-17 and controlled most of the remainder of the game.

A 15-7 flurry by the Flames opened the second half, producing a 42-40 Liberty edge, but UMBC then scored eight straight, five by Thompson, to go up, 48-42.

From that point, Liberty fought an unsuccessful battle to overcome deficits ranging from two points to six. UMBC had a 58-52 lead with 49 seconds left, but couldn't put away the game because the Retrievers missed half of their eight free throws in the final minute.

Taylor made a three-pointer to bring the Flames to within 59-57 with 11.6 seconds remaining before one of two free throws by Tony Thompson produced the final score.

Then, Taylor's last-gasp try to produce overtime caromed into the hands of Fleury as the game ended.

"We didn't attack their zone very well in the first half," said Liberty coach Jeff Meyer. "And we were unable to get Dixon involved in the offense most of the game. That was a matchup we wanted to take advantage of, but didn't."

Offensively, the Retrievers had a well balanced attack led by top scorer Marc Lay (12 points), who made a key three-pointer with two minutes left in the game. Eric Wyatt added 10 points, including two three-pointers that got UMBC out of its early doldrums.

"You aren't going to win many games scoring 57," said Meyer. "We're playing freshman guards, and right now we don't have the ability to get big-time defensive stops either."

UMBC hopes the victory over the defending champs will send a a message to the rest of the league.

"I hope it says 'don't count us out,' " said Hawkins. "There is a lot to be said for beating the best team from last year. Hopefully, we're going to have a shot at it."

Said Chris Thompson: "This is a big building block for us. One of our goals is not to lose any games in the conference at home. Now we want to keep it going."

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