Drained UMBC loses lead, game Winthrop rallies late for 69-63 victory

January 07, 1996|By Roch Eric Kubatko | Roch Eric Kubatko,SUN STAFF

The burden of a losing streak was nothing compared to the tremendous weight that UMBC's players carried onto the court for last night's game against Winthrop.

Their friend and former teammate, sophomore guard Matt Skalsky, had been buried yesterday morning in East Lansing, Mich. He died Monday after attending a New Year's Eve party in Montgomery County, and three of the Retrievers went to the funeral, then flew back for a game that didn't seem nearly as important as it had a week ago.

The opponent wasn't that tough -- Winthrop brought the same 1-9 record as UMBC -- but focusing on basketball was a greater challenge.

So was overcoming a long scoring drought, which UMBC couldn't do in squandering a big lead and losing to Winthrop, 69-63, in its Big South Conference opener at UMBC Fieldhouse.

First-year coach Tom Sullivan, who also went to the funeral, said he tried to get his team ready by "making a clear distinction between the events of the last five days and that this was a basketball game. But I think I've been better prepared for games in my career. It [the funeral] was something I tried to put aside as the game occurred. It was not a great coaching performance on my part."

Two of the players who traveled to East Lansing, juniors Eric Hayes and Marc Lay, dressed for last night's game. A third, sophomore Tony Mensah, who was a pallbearer, sat on the bench in street clothes. He had been with Skalsky the morning he died and didn't practice all week, staying at his parents' house in North Potomac.

A moment of silence was observed before the game. The UMBC players joined hands, and many of them wiped away tears at its conclusion.

Then, wearing Skalsky's initials on their uniform shorts, they went out and tried to halt a seven-game skid. Senior guard Tony Thompson scored a career-high 31 points, but it wasn't enough.

Thompson said the team was "very emotional" before the game, but tried to go about its business as usual. "We came out just like every day, wanting to play hard and wanting to win," he said.

DLay said he dealt with his grief by "trying to just get it out of my mind."

His basket from beyond the arc gave the Retrievers their first double-digit lead, 51-40, with 13:04 left. He finished with eight points and five assists.

Thompson picked up his fourth foul while trying to draw a charge with 9:52 left and UMBC ahead by 12. When he came back in, with 6:50 remaining, the Eagles had whittled the lead to seven and were in the midst of what would be a 17-0 run.

Senior forward Kevin Bellinger (eight points, 11 rebounds) fouled out three minutes later, and Winthrop went in front, 62-61, on two free throws by Andrew McFalls. Hayes shot an air ball on UMBC's next possession, and Winthrop's Todd Pigford tipped in a miss.

Thompson made an off-balance layup -- the Retrievers' only points in the last 8:39 -- but Kenya Merritt's shot popped out of the rim, Thompson missed twice and Winthrop converted its free throws at the end.

McFalls led the Eagles with 23 points and Chad Steele added 17.

The first half dragged on because 26 fouls were called, including three technicals. Thompson scored 21 points in the opening period, marking the 14th straight game that he's reached double figures, one shy of UMBC's Division I record.

He accounted for 12 of UMBC's last 16 points of the half, helping the Retrievers to a 37-30 lead.

Hayes came off the bench with 7:59 left, his first appearance since injuring his left knee against Loyola in the third game. His jumper off a fast break with 1:40 left gave the Retrievers a 32-26 lead.

WINTHROP -- McMahan 1-8 1-2 3, Steele 4-9 9-12 17, Lassiter 1-4 0-0 2, Waterman 3-5 0-0 8, Pigford 1-3 0-0 3, Butts 0-1 3-4 3, Browning 0-1 1-3 1, Groves 0-1 1-3 1, McFalls 7-11 4-5 23, Chipiwalt 3-4 2-2 8. Totals 20-47 21-30 69.

UMBC -- Lay 3-6 0-0 8, Thompson 10-14 7-8 31, Bellinger 3-3 2-6 8, Simms 1-5 1-1 4, Merritt 2-9 0-0 4, Hayes 2-5 1-2 5, Van Veen 1-7 1-2 3, Lucien 0-0 0-0 0, Poiesz 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-49 12-19 63.

Halftime--UMBC, 37-30. 3-point goals--W 8-19 (McMahan 0-5, Waterman 2-3, Pigford 1-2, McFalls 5-9), UMBC 7-18 (Lay 2-5, Thompson 4-4, Simms 1-4, Merritt 0-1, Hayes 0-2, Van Veen 0-2). Fouled out--UMBC, Lay, Bellinger. Rebounds--W 29 (Steele 7), UMBC 34 (Bellinger 11). Assists--W 12 (Pigford 3), UMBC 17 (Lay 5. Total fouls--W 20, UMBC 26. Technicals--W, McMahan, Steele, McFalls, UMBC-- Merritt. A--1,026.

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