BOSTON - It's hard to believe that a team that changed its coach four days before its first-ever America East playoff game was knocked off kilter more by postseason nerves than the distraction of the leadership change.
But that was the UMBC players' story, and they were sticking to it last night after the No. 9 Retrievers fell behind by as many as 19 points, rallied to within four and then fell to No. 8 Stony Brook, 65-59, in a first-round conference tournament game at Boston University's Walter Brown Arena.
The Retrievers, who trailed by as many as 15 points in the first half, switched coaches from Tom Sullivan to interim head coach Randy Monroe Monday, but the move was not made public until yesterday. Sullivan is now on administrative leave for an undisclosed reason.
"We came out a little tight and turned the ball over a lot," said senior guard Kareem Washington. "But once we got the jitters out, we gave it our all."
"I think a lot of players came out a little tight in their first time in a playoff situation like this," said junior guard Rob Gogerty. "So I think it took that first 10 minutes to kind of get the jitters out. What happened was Stony Brook came out and took it to us from the get-go and we fell too far behind. We had to use too much effort to come back."
D.J. Munir led Stony Brook (9-19) with 16 points and Baltimore native Mike Popoko added 13. Gogerty led the Retrievers with a career-high 20 points.
"I'm extremely proud of our guys' effort," said Monroe. "I thought they did an outstanding job of not folding. We were down [14 points] at halftime and most teams would've quit, but these young men did not quit."
Down 55-39 with 11:31 left, the Retrievers started their comeback. The Seawolves didn't score for a stretch of 7:30 and UMBC closed to 55-44. Cori Spencer ended the Stony Brook's drought, but Washington's finger-roll layup with 1:33 to play capped a 16-4 run that cut the Seawolves' lead to 59-55.
UMBC missed two chances to get closer when Gogerty and Seth Davis missed three-point attempts on consecutive possessions. Munir's two free throws with 34 seconds left extended the Seawolves' lead to 61-55 and Stony Brook sank four more free throws in the closing seconds to hold off the Retrievers.
"For us, I don't know if it's been a nuisance or whatever it is, it's something that's in our mind at times that we just can't [finish teams off]," said Stony Brook coach Nick Macarchuk. "And it's caused us to lose some games. Maybe we didn't win pretty, but we won and that's the most important thing."
UMBC-Gogerty 6-10 3-3 20, Pugh 1-4 0-1 3, Davis 1-3 2-2 4, Zito 0-3 1-2 1, Feeley 3-10 0-0 6, Washington 4-13 0-1 9, Fisk 0-0 0-0 0, Dinkins 0-0 0-0 0, McJimson 4-7 2-4 10, Housman 3-4 0-0 6, Young 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-54 8-13 59. STONY BROOK-Feist 2-8 0-0 5, Beauford 3-7 2-2 8, Munir 5-13 6-8 16, Popoko 3-5 7-7 13, Konopka 3-3 2-2 8, Orfini 0-0 0-0 0, Santiago 3-5 0-0 9, Spencer 2-4 2-6 6. Totals 21-45 19-25 65. Half: Stony Brook, 38-24. 3-point goals-UMBC 7-13 (Gogerty 5-7, Pugh 1-2, Washington 1-3, Davis 0-1), Stony Brook 4-12 (Santiago 3-4, Feist 1-5, Munir 0-3). Fouled out-Feeley. Rebounds-UMBC 30 (Washington 5), Stony Brook 29 (Konopka 7). Assists-UMBC 13 (Washington 3), Stony Brook 11 (Munir, Popoko 3). Total fouls-UMBC 23, Stony Brook 17.