UMBC occasionally drives its coach crazy with its inability to score, but the Retrievers make it up to Earl Hawkins because of the way they play defense.
Last night against visiting Radford, the Retrievers continued their surprising resurgence with their third straight defensive clinic. UMBC's hustling, tenacious defense, sparked once again by 7-foot-2 senior center Pascal Fleury, carried the Retrievers to a 60-48, come-from-behind victory, their third straight win.
The Retrievers (4-7, 2-0) are unbeaten in 1995, and off to their first 2-0 league start since joining the Big South three years ago.
Ten days ago, the Retrievers were 1-7, their lone win coming against Division III Washington College.
How can a team miss 23 of 29 shots in the first half, make only 29.6 percent of its shots overall, yet pull away to an easy victory over the best-shooting team in the Big South? UMBC did it with defense and a huge assist from its previously inconsistent free-throw shooters.
The Retrievers won the hard way. They held Radford to just 17 points in the second half, after falling behind 31-23 at halftime, thanks to 6-for-29 shooting. They allowed fewer than 60 points for the third consecutive game, the first time a Division I Retrievers team has done that. They allowed the fewest points ever at UMBC Fieldhouse.
UMBC worked diligently all night getting to the foul line, where it converted 22 of 25 attempts.
"Somehow, we've found a formula. Earlier in the year, we were playing hard, but we weren't doing it for 40 minutes," Hawkins said. "All teams have to find their chemistry. They have to understand their roles. The guys understand that they have to sacrifice scoring for setting screens and playing defense. I'm proud of them."
Although it had three players score in double figures, UMBC won because Fleury (four points) shook off early foul trouble to rattle the Highlanders (7-5, 1-2) by grabbing six rebounds and blocking a game-high six shots. When he wasn't blocking shots, Fleury had Radford altering shots or coming into the paint cautiously.
Radford center Antoine Dalton learned all about Fleury's defense. He came into last night's game averaging a team-high 15.7 points. He left with his first scoreless game of the season on 0-for-7 shooting.
"Compared to last year, the difference in chemistry on this team is night and day," Fleury said. "We know that good defense means offense."
Good defense is also the only way UMBC could have overcome its horrendous shooting. The Retrievers missed shots in every way imaginable in the first half. While failing on 14 of its first 15 attempts, UMBC missed wide-open jumpers, several layups, and even saw Chris Thompson blow a jam eight minutes into the game.
UMBC finally discovered its shooting touch in the second half. Hawkins decided to start reserve Artie Walker (13 points), and he gave the Retrievers a lift by hitting two three-point shots to cut Radford's lead to 31-29 two minutes into the half. Marc Lay (16 points, five rebounds) tied the game at 33 with a three-pointer with 15:58 left, then made it 35-33 with two free throws.
Radford battled back to take a 41-40 lead with 9:54 left on a jumper by Chris Harvey, but two more baskets by Lay made it 44-41 with 7:55 left. Radford closed the gap to 47-46 three minutes later, but UMBC finished Radford with a 13-2 run over the final 3:33, mainly by hitting nine straight foul shots to end the contest.
Tony Thompson scored 12 points and grabbed 12 rebounds for UMBC.