Robert Morris holds off UMBC, 76-70

Retrievers can't overcome poor start, drop to 5-8

January 16, 2000|By Bill Free | Bill Free,SUN STAFF

Whatever happened to the UMBC basketball magic that carried the Retrievers to a 15-0 start in the Northeast Conference last season?

Those days seemed far away last night at the Retriever Activities Center, where Robert Morris bolted to a 15-point half-time lead and then held off a furious second-half rally by UMBC for a 76-70 victory in an important conference matchup.

The victory left Robert Morris (7-6) at the top of the NEC standings with a 4-0 record, while the Retrievers (5-8) dropped their second league game in three starts.

"Last year we were a very good team and very deep," said UMBC coach Tom Sullivan. "This year we're a good team with no depth. We have to recognize that problem this season and use our young players a lot and go out and recruit more players."

No matter how Sullivan rolls the dice this season, he can't make up for the loss of three key junior players from last season: wing man Rich Giddens, guard Tim Hyland and 6-foot-8 forward Nick Grella.

All three just decided to walk away from the program. Giddens is taking a year off for "personal reasons," Grella decided he didn't want to play basketball anymore and Hyland quit after two games this season.

"When you're playing with a short deck and then unexpected things happen like a player [Kennedy Okafor] coming down with the flu and another player [Isaac Green] having a death in his family this week, you're going to be in trouble," said Sullivan. "With those two guys gone, we only had eight to practice with."

That was the reason for UMBC's dismal first half, when the home team seemed uninterested in playing last night, said Sullivan.

But after sleepwalking through the first half and falling behind 45-30 against a well-drilled Robert Morris team, the Retrievers woke up late in the second half for an 11-0 run that reduced the lead to 67-64 with 4: 04 left in the game.

UMBC drew within 71-69 with 1: 36 left on Terence Ward's three-pointer but couldn't catch the Colonials down the stretch.

Senior Robert Morris guard Gene Nabors, a transfer from LSU, hit five crucial free throws in the final minutes to hold off the Retrievers. Nabors led all scorers with 22, and Terence Ward led UMBC with 19.

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