Game #9-360: Maine Black Bears at Maryland-Baltimore County RetrieversFebruary 2, 2013 7:00 pm
CATONSVILLE, Md. - Coaches often get credit for designing brilliant plays that win games
, but - especially when time is limited - they all seem to pretty much follow the same outline, whether you're Brad Stevens or Maryland-Baltimore County's Aki Thomas. Of course, unlike Stevens, Thomas likely never expected to be the man in charge this season, but was appointed interim coach when Randy Monroe stepped down just two days before practice was to start
It goes like this: Get the ball to your point guard as soon as possible, let them go as quickly as they can. Put shooters in the corners, probably your best marksman on the right side if you have a right-handed point guard. We've seen the ballhandler go all the way to the basket in the past, but most times these days, it's a dribble-screen handoff (one of those technically illegal plays that is rarely called and accepted) to give the shooter that inch of space to release the shot in time.
It was hard not to feel empathy for Thomas and UMBC Saturday night. Despite a 5-16 record, a decent crowd had braved the elements outside to make it to UMBC Arena, better known as the RAC to the faithful. Alas, even with an enrollment
of more than 13,000 undergrads, the Retrievers couldn't get too many students to show up (the band and cheerleaders represented well).
In 2008, UMBC (with Monroe at the helm) won both the America East regular season and tournament title
, making its only NCAA Tournament appearance against Georgetown (who would be knocked off by Davidson and some guard named Curry in the next round
). But it's been mostly downhill sledding since, and when your head coach - especially one that had been involved with the program for nearly two decades - leaves just hours before the balls come out for the first time, it can't be good.
Yet, after a fairly horrific 2-13 start
, the Retrievers had managed to win three conference games coming into Saturday night's game. But Maine got off to the hot start, with the din of coach Ted Woodward's voice rising over all the others in the RAC. The Black Bears' foreign legion, led by German Jon Mesghna and Serbian Zarko Valjarevic, shot their way to a double-digit lead that they held for the majority of the first half.
Thomas strikes an imposing figure, but not a terribly intimidating demeanor, fixing his glasses several times and never truly making himself heard over the crowd, also not seeing the need to rant and rave up and down the sidelines at a couple of calls that went against him.
Almost immediately out of the locker room, UMBC fought back. Six-foot sophomore Joey Getz somehow found himself in the back of a 2-3 zone for possessions, but was the spark
off the bench (the game might have worse in the first half if not for him as well), scoring 16 points and - yes - grabbing four rebounds, including a putback.
Valjarevic kept firing, but the shots stopped falling, and the Retrievers took advantage. By the time, Aaron Morgan hit a #superhoop
with 5:10 left, UMBC had turned it around to the tune of 61-54.
But soon after, it appeared to be ripped from them when Valjarevic drilled a #superhoop
with 6.7 seconds left to put the Black Bears back in front 67-65.
Now this game will be little noted nor long remembered, probably even in our TMM community. It would take a couple of upsets for either of these teams to make it to national television in the America East final. I still felt bad, though, for UMBC, who had suffered through a tough season and then come from way back when they could have folded in this game, only to be dealt another brutal loss.
(It was also a tough week off the court. Rich Flemming, who had played with UMBC in the 2008-09 season, was shot and killed in Philadelphia
. The crowd observed a moment of silence before the national anthem.)
And so Thomas drew up the play
in the huddle. The ball was inbounded away from Getz in order to try to get him the ball on the run, but soon whistles sounded.
The clock never started.
UMBC had no time outs, but Woodward - whose bench was closer to the inbound spot - quickly gathered his troops together to let them know what the Retrievers had just tried. Thomas tried, but whistles were blowing and the teams went back.
It didn't look good for the Retrievers.You can see what happened next here if you wish
, but this time Getz ran in a looping motion and got the ball directly. He faced stiff resistance but was able to hand the ball to senior Brian Neller coming out of the right corner.
It hadn't been a stellar night for Neller in what probably wasn't the career he had hoped for. He did average 11.4 points per game last season and a junior, but was sitting at about nine per contest this year. He had began Saturday night ice cold and was just 4-for-12 from the floor. Most importantly, though, UMBC's record in the four years he had been on campus as he rose up to shoot a difficult 25-footer with a hand in his face: 15-93.
But none of that matters when the ball flies through the air, just like it did when we were young on the playground. "3, 2, 1 ... Arrrrrrrnt. Goooooood." Even if it wasn't on the first try.
One of the movies I like to show my players in preseason is "Miracle" which I'm well aware is a hockey flick, but it fits in well with our Mid-majority genre. After the U.S. defeats the evil Soviets, the cameras pan to Jack O'Callaghan, who had overcome an injury to play in the game. The scene is probably a second long, but O'Callaghan drops to his knees and lets loose a scream that only a triumphant athlete can let out.
I often pause the movie at that moment just to have everyone glance at the look of a victor.
Neller's reaction was much more stoic, as you might have seen. There was a good reason for that.
Unlike in our playground buzzer-beaters, the clock stopped as it went through the net, reading 0.5 seconds, meaning Maine did have a chance, albeit a ridiculously slim one, of coming back.
There was another glitch in the UMBC celebration. In the euphoria, both assistant coaches ran on the court, one of them hugging Neller, before quickly figuring out he wasn't wanted, and quickly turned to tell everyone to get back, to which it was a little late.
Now, we spend a lot of time bashing officials, some of it deserved, but we don't often praise them when they get something correct. By the letter of the law, UMBC should have been issued a technical foul, but the trio of Jeff Plunkett, Mike McCloskey, and David Walker let common sense - thankfully - prevail, and just gave UMBC a delay of game warning.
Some credit goes to Woodward as well, who despite the gut-punch basket and almost certain defeat, only offered a mild protest. Maine inbounded the ball and never got a shot off.
My photography skills and my equipment are both limited, so you unfortunately don't see many insightful game-action photos. But as a jubilant UMBC lined up to listen to the band play the alma mater, junior Chase Plummer was closest to me. Plummer won a pair of state titles at St. Patrick in New Jersey, and is the team's leader these days, posting 17 points, seven rebounds, and five assists Saturday night.
But it wasn't the stats that got this fistpump out of him toward the crowd.
Nope, at any level, no matter what your record happens to be, that's the look of a winner.
And it's beautiful. Whether you're 6-16 or 22-0.
at MARYLAND-BALTIMORE COUNTY 68, MAINE 67
MAINE 8-14 (3-6) -- Z. Valjarevic 6-18 2-2 20; J. Mesghna 3-6 3-3 11; X. Pollard 3-5 4-4 10; A. Fraser 6-13 1-4 13; M. Allison 2-3 1-3 5; S. Lawton 3-3 0-1 6; T. Gloger 1-1 0-0 2; J. McAllian 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 24-50 11-17 67.
MARYLAND-BALTIMORE COUNTY 6-16 (4-5) -- B. Neller 4-13 0-0 12; C. Plummer 6-10 4-11 17; Q. Jones 1-4 0-0 2; R. Cook 5-9 4-6 14; J. Getz 8-12 0-0 16; A. Satchell 0-3 0-0 0; A. Morgan 1-2 0-0 3; M. Garner 0-4 0-0 0; J. Wertz 1-3 0-0 3; J. Wejnert 0-0 1-2 1. Totals 26-60 9-19 68.
Three-point goals: UME 8-25 (J. McAllian 0-1; A. Fraser 0-1; X. Pollard 0-1; Z. Valjarevic 6-17; J. Mesghna 2-5), UMBC 7-20 (B. Neller 4-13; J. Wertz 1-1; C. Plummer 1-1; J. Getz 0-1; Q. Jones 0-2; M. Garner 0-1; A. Morgan 1-1); Rebounds: UME 31 (A. Fraser 9), UMBC 32 (R. Cook 8); Assists: UME 14 (X. Pollard 7), UMBC 14 (C. Plummer 5); Total Fouls -- UME 19, UMBC 20; Fouled Out: UME-None; UMBC-None.