Host with most, Liberty sends UMBC home with rout Retrievers ousted, 74-52,finish trying season 5-22

March 01, 1996|By Roch Eric Kubatko | Roch Eric Kubatko,SUN STAFF

LYNCHBURG, Va. -- In a season in which so much has gone wrong for UMBC, how appropriate that the Retrievers would play the host team in the first round of the Big South tournament.

As if they needed to be at more of a disadvantage.

Unable to control Liberty center Peter Aluma, the Retrievers gave up too many easy baskets, started slowly in both halves and made a speedy exit, losing to the Flames, 74-52, before a raucous crowd of 8,157 at the Vines Center. That's the largest attendance ever for a Big South tournament game.

Aluma, a 6-foot-10, 240-pound junior from Nigeria, led all scorers with 25 points. Matched up at times against freshmen Lenny Barber and Eric Poiesz, he proved too big, too strong and too intent on advancing the Flames (16-11).

"We did a good job in the first half of mixing our zone and man-to-man," UMBC coach Tom Sullivan said. "We tried it again in the second half and they adjusted, and we were overmatched on the interior."

The Retrievers (5-22) will try to put this season behind them.

In the past four months, they've had to deal with injuries at every position, agonizing defeats, and, most difficult, the death of sophomore guard Matt Skalsky. Their roster shrank to 10 players, and their hopes of continuing into March dwindled at an even swifter rate.

UMBC's players were greeted by boos during pre-game warm-ups, and seconds later, a thunderous ovation broke out as Liberty emerged. The mascot dived into the student section, was lifted into the air and passed back a couple rows. Signs professing love for the Flames filled the arena.

There was nothing neutral about this site, and nothing early on to suggest that UMBC would quiet the celebration. The Retrievers made one field goal in the first 8:40 and trailed 19-7. But junior Marc Lay made a three-pointer to begin a 14-0 run -- most of it coming with Aluma on the bench -- and UMBC led for the first time.

Liberty went about nine minutes without scoring, and despite shooting 31 percent, the Retrievers were down by two at the half.

They would never get back up. Senior Tony Thompson scored 18 in the first half, only two in the second. And once Liberty got hot from the outside, UMBC was through.

"It was hard to get my shots off," said Thompson, who attempted just three in the second half. "They were crowding me inside with their zone. It was frustrating."

There isn't a dominant team in the Big South, and that was evident in the first game yesterday, when top seed North Carolina-Greensboro struggled past No. 8 Coastal Carolina, 78-67. Greensboro led by just five with a minute left.

Fourth-seeded Charleston Southern shot only 36 percent in its 55-52 victory over No. 5 Radford. And No. 3 Asheville made seven field goals in the second half and shot 38 percent overall

in a 69-61 win over No. 6 Winthrop.

Big South tournament

At Lynchburg, Va.

First round

Liberty 74, UMBC 52

UNC-Green. 78, Coastal Caro. 67

Charleston So. 55, Radford 52

UNC-Asheville 69, Winthrop 61Semifinals: TonightUNC-Green. vs. Charleston So., 6

Liberty vs. UNC-Asheville, 8

Championship: Tomorrow

, Semifinal winners, 1:30 p.m.

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