#retriever50for50 - Men's Basketball Wins NEC Regular Season Crown in League Debut

#retriever50for50 - Men's Basketball Wins NEC Regular Season Crown in League Debut

Truth be told, there are several men's basketball moments in this section of the #retriever50for50 countdown. But that will soon change.

However, the No. 37 moment occurred on the hardwood on Feb. 20, 1999. UMBC had joined the Northeast Conference at the beginning of that academic year and the Tom Sullivan's squad was not particularly well-regarded. The nucleus of the squad 1998-99 was sophomores and league coaches were unimpressed about the young group's 14-14 record in their final Big South campaign.

UMBC started the year 0-4, including a pair of disheartening losses in the inaugural Battle of Baltimore Tournament. Conference play started on Dec. 3, when UMBC hosted Mt. St. Mary's. Before a crowd of 2,627, the Retrievers defeated the Mount, 68-59, starting an incredible run by the black and gold. The Retrievers won 16 of 17 games – the lone loss was an overtime setback versus Navy – including the first 15 league contests.

But then, UMBC dropped three of four, including a setback at St. Francis (N.Y.) on Feb. 16. The Terriers were coming on strong and came back to the RAC Arena four days later in a game that would determine the regular season champion.

A crowd of 3,084 packed the RAC, the third-largest to that point in the building's history. UMBC led, 29-27, at the half, but sophomore forward Kennedy Okafor led the charge during a dominating second half and the Retrievers overwhelmed the visitors, 81-66. Okafor, who served as the sixth man for most of the year, got the start and led a balanced attack with 18 points and 14 caroms. Classmate Brad Martin hit all seven of his field goal attempts in a 16-point effort and guards Terence Ward and Tim Hyland each scored 14 points.

UMBC set a school record (at the time) with their 18th victory and posted an NEC mark with 17 (17-3) triumphs.  

The Retrievers got past host Wagner, 63-56, in the NEC Tournament quarters, but UMBC (19-9) could not knock off fourth-seeded Central Connecticut State for the third time that season and fell, 82-72.

The 11 consecutive victories still stand as a UMBC men's basketball Division I record.