UMBC blows big lead, wins in double-overtime, advances to conference championship

Catonsville — UMBC men’s basketball defeated the Hartford Hawks, 90-85, in double-overtime Tuesday evening to advance to the America East Championship game. Though the win didn’t come without many anxious moments for the UMBC Event Center crowd.

They don’t call it March Madness for nothing.

It was a tale of two halves. The Retrievers (21-12, 13-5) came out with tremendous energy and hot shooting. They used their stifling defense to create lots of easy buckets in the transition game and, taking a 8-0 lead, forcing Hartford to call an early timeout.

The Hartford (18-15, 11-7) timeout would prove to be ineffective as the Retrievers would build a 20-point lead with 3:37 to go in the first half.

UMBC seemed to get to every loose ball and dominated the boards, taking a 37-18 lead into the locker room. The Retrievers had forced eight Hawk turnovers.

When freshman guard R.J. Eytle-Rock hit a 3-pointer nearly five minutes into the second half, it seemed Hartford was done for, trailing 50-24. With UMBC enjoying their biggest lead of the game on their home court, the Hawks could’ve easily packed it in.

However, the Hawks are a senior-laden team, and they would not quit. They employed a full-court press earlier in the second half, and it started to pay dividends.

The Retrievers would go completely cold from the field, to include a 7:32 stretch where they failed to hit a field goal.

Meanwhile, the Hawks would creep back in it, cutting the lead to nine points with 5:43 on the clock.

When Hartford senior guard Travis Weatherington cut the lead to four at 61-57 with 3:06 on the clock, the comeback was in full swing.

The lead remained at four, until Hawks senior guard Jason Duane drilled a 3-pointer bringing the Hawks to within one, 63-62. The nervous crowd tried their best to will the Retrievers to hold on.

After exchanging made free throws, it seemed UMBC graduate student forward Joe Sherburne had delivered the dagger on a long 3-pointer with 40 seconds remaining.

That’s when another senior, Hartford guard J.R. Lynch, took over. Lynch drew a foul and cut the lead to two at the 26 second mark.

Sherburne then missed the front end of a 1-and-1, leading to a Lynch field goal tying the score, but Lynch was also fouled on the play. He then made his free throw, giving Harford their first lead and completing the comeback, with 16 seconds on the clock.

The Retrievers were staring an epic collapse in the face, but now it was their turn to show heart. Junior guard K.J. Jackson drew a foul and hit a free throw, tying the score with :03 on the clock, sending the game into overtime.

In the first overtime, the Retrievers found themselves in a familiar position. They were watching Lynch at the line giving the Hawks a two point lead, 76-74, with 16 second remaining.

Once again, UMBC had to dig deep. They got the ball inside and drew a foul on senior Hawks forward John Carroll, his fifth and disqualifying foul. Retrievers sophomore forward Brandon Horvath hit both of his free throws at the :08 mark, tying the game at 76, which would head into a second overtime.

The Retrievers would jump out to an early four point lead, but big shots by Dunne and Lynch tied the score once again with 1:54 remaining. However, at the 1:37 mark, Lynch would draw his fifth foul, and the hour glass would start to run out for the Hawks.

Without Lynch or Carroll, Hartford lost their two best players and could no longer generate offense. UMBC would outscore the Hawks 6-1 after Lynch’s departure and, finally, finish off Hartford.

Jackson led the Retrievers with 21 points and Eytle-Rock checked in with 16 points. Horvath contributed 14 points off the bench and Sherburne hauled in 12 rebounds.

Weatherington finished with a game-high 25 points for the Hawks, while Lynch wasn’t far behind with 22, though he was 2-10 from 3-point range.

The Retrievers out rebounded the Hawks 48-32 and doubled them up on points in the paint, 48-24.

The Retrievers now move on to the America East championship game on the road against Vermont, in a rematch of last year’s epic final.

Tom Martin

Husband, father of three. Baltimore born and raised. UMBC '94. Follow me on Twitter -- @martymar1970

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