Season Recap: With third-straight 20-win season, UMBC season a success

Though the 2018-19 UMBC men’s basketball season ended last Saturday in the America East conference championship game, in many ways the season was a success.

The Retrievers finished with a 21-13 record overall, and for the first time in school history they won 20+ games for the third consecutive year.  Their appearance in the conference championship game was only their fourth all-time since joining the America East.

Coming off a historic season where they won the conference championship, made the NCAA tournament and upset heavily favored Virginia, becoming the first #16-seed to upset a #1-seed, the Retrievers knew they had a target on their back.

Losing guards Jarius Lyles, K.J. Maura and Jordan Grant from that team to graduation didn’t help matters.

Change, though, is inevitable in college sports and third-year coach Ryan Odom retooled.  He brought in freshman guards R.J. Eytle-Rock (London, England), Jose Placer (Miami) and Jack Schwietz (Frisco, Texas).  He also accepted two transfers, junior guards K.J. Jackson (Temple College) and Ricky Council II (Providence).

With so many new teammates, it took a little time for the players to come together and for Odom to get the right combinations of the floor for certain situations. 

During their non-conference schedule, they had ups and downs, finishing the 15-game slate with a record of 8-7.  That inconsistency was no more apparent than during an eight-day stretch in December. 

On December the 8th the team traveled to Philadelphia and thrashed Drexel, 91-76, but at home on the 16th they were beaten badly by Florida- Gulf Coast, 76-53.

After starting their conference schedule 1-2, the team put together their best basketball of the season, winning nine of the next 10.  During that stretch, they defeated Vermont twice, the first time they had accomplished that feat in 11 seasons.

Two of their most exciting victories during the conference schedule came at home.  On January 19th, Council II drilled a 3-pointer with less nine seconds remaining in overtime to defeat UAlbany, 65-64.

Their last home game of the season was just as dramatic.  Trailing by 18 points in the second half to New Hampshire, the last place team in the conference, the Retriever mounted an exciting comeback to drop the Wildcats, 56-53.

The Retrievers finished third in the regular season conference standings with an 11-5 record and won their conference quarterfinal game at home against UAlbany, setting up what would be an epic game in the semifinals against Hartford.

In that game, the Retrievers had a 26-point lead with less than 12 minutes remaining, only to see the lead evaporate.  They forced the game into overtime, and needed another overtime period to finally put the Hawks away, 90-85. 

How much that game affected their performance in the championship game is unknown, but it was certainly draining both physically and mentally.

Injuries certainly played a factor this season.  Some of the players that the team was relying on coming into the season missed significant time. 

Senior forward Max Portman missed the entire season, sophomore forward Danial Akin played in only seven games, junior forward Max Curran only played in 12 games and senior forward/center Nolan Gerrity missed nearly half the season, all due to a variety of injuries.

UMBC was led, on and off the court, by Academic All-American graduate student forward Joe Sherburne.  Sherburne averaged 13.9 points and 36.5 minutes per game.   Among those who played more than seven games, Sherburne led the team with 5.6 rebounds per game.

Sherburne has been a steady force for the Retrievers these past four years, and will be missed by teammates and fans alike.

Jackson showed why Odom accepted his transfer request, as he came in at 12.8 points per game, though he had issues all year with turnovers.

Clearly Odom’s focus this season was defense.  The Retrievers allowed just 64.5 points per game during their conference schedule, and they used their defense to create lots of offensive chances in transition. 

Since the team struggled somewhat in the half court, they relied on missed shots so the opponent couldn’t set their defense, often creating mismatches. 

Jackson was the primary point guard, but was also the one player on the team that could create his own shot.  Last year Maura was at the point, and Lyles was the athletic scorer, not allowing the opponent to focus on one player.

Sherburne was the big scoring threat, but he relied on Jackson’s dribble penetration to draw the defense, forcing a one-on-one or open shot for him.

This year’s team needed more secondary scoring, which was somewhat inconsistent.  The team’s most complete player, junior forward Arkel Lamar, was streaky.  If Lamar had a good game, the Retrievers were tough to beat.  However, he finished the season averaging only 9.3 points per game.

Sophomore forward Brandon Horvath was the team’s sixth man, and is poised to be a starter next season.   Junior F/C Sam Schweitz provided energy, especially on the defensive end, coming off the bench as well. 

The loss of the seniors, especially Sherburne, will create some holes in forward/center position, but if Odom can recruit some “bigs” to go along with the good group of guards, the team should be positioned well to compete for the conference title again next season. 

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Tom Martin

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

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