UMBC nips Towson, 78-77

January 20, 1995|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,Sun Staff Writer

This time, the Blalock magic didn't work.

Towson State junior guard Ralph Blalock has won three games this season with buzzer-beating shots. But last night at UMBC Fieldhouse, he missed a go-ahead, 16-foot attempt with five seconds left, and while teammate Stevie Thomas battled with two UMBC players for the rebound, time ran out and UMBC escaped with a 78-77 victory.

Blalock's hero's role was filled instead by UMBC point guard Eric Wyatt. After Quinton Moody had slowed a late UMBC rally by making a free throw with 38.6 seconds left to give Towson State a 77-75 lead, Wyatt took a pass on the wing and caught a big break when Moody, who was defending him, fell down.

Wyatt calmly dribbled backward, behind the three-point line and drilled the game-winner with 26.5 seconds remaining.

The Tigers, who had led 68-59 with 5:39 to go, called timeout with 19.7 seconds left. Then, they called on Blalock. With UMBC's Tony Thompson guarding him closely, Blalock dribbled in near the foul line, then pulled up for a possible game-winner. His shot hit the back of the rim.

"If you can hang around, especially in your own gym, you never know what kind of plays can happen," UMBC coach Earl Hawkins said.

"The key is we were close at the end and able to make some big plays. You've got to win some of these games in order to get to the upper echelon of your conference. For the last few years, we haven't made those plays. I think we're due."

Said Wyatt: "Coach wanted a two [point shot], but told me if it was wide open, go for the three. I was trying to go inside and get the foul, but when he fell, I backed up and was wide open. We missed a lot of free throws and played terrible defense. As bad as we were playing, we were still hanging around, and we stole that one."

After stumbling through the game's first 36 minutes with sloppy ball-handling, bad free-throw shooting and soft defense -- which helped Towson State lead for the first 16 minutes of the second half -- UMBC (6-9, 3-2) regrouped.

When Thomas hit two free throws to give Towson State (6-7, 1-4) a 72-65 lead with 4:01 to play, the Tigers seemed on their way to stopping their worst start since joining the Big South Conference three seasons ago. But the Retrievers, who hung around stubbornly all night, wouldn't go away.

An ill-advised shot by Towson guard DeRon Robinson resulted in a miss, which Thompson -- who had a season-high 21 points-- turned into a 15-foot jumper at the other end to cut the Tigers' lead to 72-67. The Retrievers then forced a turnover, and Artie Walker chased down the loose ball for a layup. Blalock then missed a three-pointer, and Thompson converted a three-point play, thanks to a tough, 14-foot leaner in the paint.

Suddenly, the score was tied at 72 with 2:25 remaining. The Retrievers then took a 74-72 lead, their first advantage since the final minute of the first half on a controversial play. Thompson stole the ball from Blalock near midcourt and drove in for the layup to give UMBC a 74-72 lead with 2:07 left. Blalock appeared to be signaling for a timeout before the steal.

"Ralph was screaming for the timeout, plus he was limping. Any official that's into what they're doing should have recognized that," said Towson State coach Terry Truax, who drew a technical foul in the first for arguing a no-call. "But in that situation, he [Blalock] can't take anything for granted and lay the ball out there.

"UMBC deserves the credit. They had enough confidence to hang in there and take the game at the end. This is just another learning experience for our young team."

The Retrievers persevered through some trying moments. They hit only 22 of 39 foul shots.

In the first half, which ended with the Tigers on top, 39-34, they committed 12 turnovers and were out-rebounded 18-10. They also allowed Towson State four dunks, including two by freshman Ralph Biggs, who scored a career-high 17 points.

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