UMBC: America East mid-season report
UMBC men’s basketball (14-9, 6-2) finds themselves all alone in second place in the America East conference standings halfway through their 16-game conference schedule. They trail only the Vermont Catamounts (16-5, 6-1) whom the defeated on January 23rd.
The Retrievers are currently on a five-game win streak, and coming off a 57-49 victory over the Stony Brook Seawolves (17-5, 5-2) at the UMBC Event Center last Wednesday evening.
As the defending America East tournament champions, and after their stunning upset of #1 Virginia in the 2018 NCAA tournament, the Retrievers came into the season with a target on their back. As much as any mid-major program in recent memory, they were going to get “everyone’s best shot” this season, and, so far, they have handled that pressure as well as can be expected.
After losing three players from last year’s team, including two starters, this year’s team took some time to find their game. Their non-conference schedule produced uneven results, with impressive wins over Air Force on a neutral court and at Drexel, but disappointing losses at home to American and Florida – Gulf Coast.
Heading into conference play, the team was 8-7 and some uncertainty surrounded the squad. But in conference play the Retrievers have shown glimpses of some of the magic of last season. Though they have dropped two games, both were on the road and one of those was in overtime. By far, their most impressive win was at Vermont, in a game that UMBC dominated in the second half.
The one phase of the game that has been most consistent for the team this season is defense. The Retrievers lead the conference in allowing just 63 points per game. They are also forcing over 16 turnovers per contest, which leads the America East and they are second in the league with a 41% field goal percentage allowed.
The leader of the team in the classroom and on the floor this season has been graduate student forward Joe Sherburne. The academic All-American is leading the team in points (14.5) and minutes (36.1) per game. He also boasts a shooting percentage of 50.4 and a free throw percentage of 90.9.
Junior guard K.J. Jackson has solidified the point position and is averaging 11.3 points and 3.5 assists per game. He’s also been instrumental in bringing along freshman guards R.J Eytle-Rock and Jose Placer.
Two areas the team needs to improve on are turnovers (they are averaging over 13 per game) and free-throw shooting, as they are in the bottom-half of the conference, shooting just 67%.
Junior forward Arkel Lamar continues to be a force, with both an inside and outside presence and junior center Sam Schwietz has provided energy, especially on the defensive end, and filled in nicely for several injured team mates.
UMBC hasn’t been immune to the injury bug, and it’s created quite a challenge for third-year coach Ryan Odom. Senior forward Nolan Gerrity, junior forward Max Curran, sophomore forward Daniel Akin and sophomore forward Brandon Horvath have all missed significant time with injury. Curran and Akin are out for the season.
Odom, however, has been masterful in his rotations and ensuring the right group is on the floor for the situation. He has the pulse of the team has done well with recruiting players that fit his system.
Injuries, expectations and new players could combine to derail a basketball season, but so far the Retrievers have weathered the storm and they seemed to have found their stride heading into the second half of their conference schedule.