BALTIMORE – A gritty effort by UMBC came up just short, as the Retrievers fell, 84-81, to visiting New Hampshire at the RAC Arena.
Sophomore guard Jairus Lyles (Silver Spring, Md./DeMatha) led all scorers with 26 points, leading four Retrievers in double figures.
There were six ties and seven lead changes in the second half and neither team led by more than four points over the final 27 minutes of play.
UNH held a 75-71 lead with 2:35 remaining, but UMBC got a pair of free throws by sophomore guard Rodney Elliott (Baltimore, Md./John Carroll) and forced a missed field goal attempt on the other end. Then, Lyles got a screen on the left wing and got to the basket, converting a lay-up to knot the score at 75-all with 1:24 remaining.
After a Wildcat time-out, sophomore post Taylor Leissner, who was limited on the inside during the game, stepped out late in the shot clock and knocked down a trey from the top of the key to give his side the lead for good at 78-75 with 59 seconds remaining.
UMBC (5-18, 1-7 America East) failed to answer on the next possession and Leissner hit one of two free throws with 40 seconds left. The Retrievers would cut the deficit to two points three times in the final 33 seconds and had a chance to tie the game after UNH guard Joe Bramanti hit one of two free throws to give his squad a 84-81 lead with 11 seconds left. But the Wildcats defended Lyles well and Elliott's off-balance attempt with three seconds left fell short of the mark.
UNH (12-9, 5-3 AE), which has won four of its last five outings, was paced by junior guard Jaleen Smith, who scored 15 of his team high 21 points in the second half.
Lyles converted 10 (of 18) field goals or more in a game for the sixth time in a dozen outings for UMBC. Elliott added 17 points, sophomore guard Jourdan Grant (Bowie, Md./Archbishop Spalding) recorded 15 and junior wing Will Darley (Timonium, Md./Dulaney) tallied 14.
Darley and senior post Cody Joyce (Churchton, Md./Southern) led UMBC with nine rebounds each, as the Retrievers outrebounded the conference's second-best rebounding squad (+6.8), 37-35.
The Retrievers, paced by nine early points by Darley, took a 19-10 lead at the 12:49 mark of the first half. But UNH battled back, hitting 8-of-13 field goals and grabbed their first lead since the opening possessionat 34-33 on a dunk by junior forward Jacoby Armstrong play with 4:02 remaining. But an electrifying Lyles end-to-end dash and layup sparked a late Retriever rally and the hosts went into the locker room with a 41-37 lead.
UMBC had a slight edge in shooting percentage, hitting 46.4 percent (26-of-56) from the floor, compared to 43.5 percent (27-of-62) by UNH. But the visitors stayed in contact early by virtue of the three-ball and finished with 10 treys on 21 attempts (47.6 percent) for the game. UMBC only countered with 5-of-14 from behind the arc.
UMBC hosts three-time defending America East champion Albany as the second half of league play begins on Wednesday, Feb. 3.