It saddens me a bit to see UMBC's basketball program going through its current state of affairs.
You see, the Retrievers hold a special place in my mid-major heart. In a lot of ways, they're the team responsible for me caring anything at all about small-college basketball outside of the three weeks in March when everybody pretends to care.
Back in 2008, a friend and I decided completely on a whim to head up to the campus of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. The occasion? The Retrievers were hosting the Hartford Hawks for the America East tournament championship. Most people wouldn't think of driving to Baltimore for a sold-out basketball game - without tickets - that we had no rooting interest in. But what the hell? We were bored.
It turned out to be one of the best decisions I've made as a sports fan.
UMBC won that game, 82-65, and clinched the AEC's automatic bid. We stormed the court to join in the celebration, as if we had been there all season long. It's still one of my favorite live sports memories.
Unfortunately, time hasn't been nearly so kind to the Retrievers. UMBC finished sixth in the America East the next year, but managed to make a run back to the America East title game, where they fell to Binghamton. It's only gotten worse from there, with UMBC amassing a total of nine wins over the next two seasons.
Which brings us to tonight's game at Bender Arena. UMBC came in at 0-6, and was faced with going on the road (if not terribly far) to take down an American team that had won five straight.
Give credit where credit is due: the Retrievers were never really out of this one until the end, and led by as much as six in the first half. But UMBC's mistakes on the offensive end in the second half cost them the game, and they were never closer than two possessions from the lead.
It's clearly a trying time for the Retrievers, telling by the sullen look on the players' faces as they left the court, and the frequency with which the ever-colorful Randy Monroe, UMBC's head coach, jumped into one of his tirades. You have to wonder when, if ever, he starts coaching with an eye over his shoulder. Coaches who only win nine games in two and a half years don't have much lasting value in this world, no matter what good things they've done before.
There's something that's pretty refreshing about not taking sides when watching these games, but maybe I should make an exception here. I can't help but root for UMBC - I want to see them get back to where they were for that fleeting moment.
But if not, there's always the memories.
at AMERICAN 69, MARYLAND-BALTIMORE COUNTY 58 12/01/2011
MARYLAND-BALTIMORE COUNTY 0-7 (0-0) -- Q. Jones 2-7 2-2 6; B. Neller 2-10 0-0 5; R. Cook 4-10 4-4 13; C. Plummer 7-17 4-5 18; W. Wise 0-2 0-0 0; J. Wasco 4-5 2-2 10; A. Satchell 1-4 0-4 2; C. Thomas 2-3 0-0 4; J. Wertz 0-1 0-0 0; N. Basalyga 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 22-60 12-17 58. AMERICAN 6-2 (0-0) -- D. Munoz 2-5 4-6 10; T. Brewer 5-12 3-6 15; C. Hinkle 5-13 7-8 18; T. Wroblicky 2-3 3-3 7; J. Schoof 1-4 0-0 2; B. Jolivette 3-7 1-3 9; S. McCormack 3-4 2-5 8; R. Grafft 0-1 0-0 0; W. Simon II 0-0 0-1 0; J. Hill 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-49 20-32 69.
Three-point goals: UMBC 2-16 (B. Neller 1-8; J. Wertz 0-1; C. Plummer 0-1; R. Cook 1-4; Q. Jones 0-2), AMER 7-26 (T. Brewer 2-9; C. Hinkle 1-7; B. Jolivette 2-3; D. Munoz 2-5; J. Schoof 0-2); Rebounds: UMBC 36 (C. Plummer 9), AMER 34 (T. Wroblicky 13); Assists: UMBC 8 (R. Cook 3), AMER 13 (D. Munoz 4); Total Fouls -- UMBC 25, AMER 17; Fouled Out: UMBC-None; AMER-None.