Aki Thomas, UMBC men still positive despite three-game losing streak

Retrievers looking to fortify interior defense and stop sending opponents to free-throw line

December 18, 2013|By Edward Lee, The Baltimore Sun

The UMBC men’s basketball team is mired in a three-game losing streak, which would be more than enough to depress players and coaches alike. But that attitude has not set in just yet, according to coach Aki Thomas.

“I’d say that the mood has been not bad,” he said Wednesday morning. “It’s been pretty good actually. Usually, after a three-game losing streak or any losing streak, you’ll get guys maybe putting down their heads a little bit. But our guys have responded with some really competitive practices and really focusing on getting better and improving. So I’m happy for that.”

Thomas said he has pointed out two threads that have contributed to the Retrievers’ skid. One is a porous interior defense that has allowed opponents to penetrate into the lane and either score from point-blank range or find an open teammate on the perimeter. Duquesne, Lehigh and Coppin State have outscored UMBC, 94-76, in the paint.

Another factor has been a propensity for sending opposing players to the free-throw line more than UMBC (3-8) has gone. During the three-game losing streak, opponents have converted more free throws than the Retrievers have gone to the charity stripe.

“[W]e’ve got to stop fouling and sending people to the free-throw line,” Thomas said. “Once again, Coppin made more free throws than we attempted [28 free throws for the Eagles compared to 23 tries for UMBC], and it’s going to be tough to win games that way. So we have to do a better job of not sending teams to the free-throw line and keeping them out of the bonus as long as we can. We need to keep our feet in front of us and maybe not use our hands as much.”

The good news for the Retrievers is that half of their eight losses have been decided by six points or less. The bad news is that those setbacks are missed opportunities that the team can only regret.

“We talk about that a lot and the fact that we’re a couple possessions away from instead of being 3-8, maybe being 8-3 or 7-4,” Thomas said. “So we talk about that quite often. The reason we talk about it is to let the guys know how sensitive the game of basketball can be. A play here, missed assignment here, a missed box-out here, a foul here, a missed free throw there can really cost you basketball games. So we talk about how sensitive the game of basketball can be and we’re learning that early on in our season right now.”

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