As mentioned in Moment No. 16, UMBC Athletics started to come of age in the late 1970's, as the men's basketball, soccer, and lacrosse teams established themselves as NCAA Division II powers. At Moment No. 14 in the #retriever50for50 countdown, March 10, 1979 went down as a loss in the scorebook, but it was the first truly big sporting "event" on the UMBC campus.
And yet UMBC lost the game.
To set the scene, college basketball in Baltimore was a big deal in the 1970's. UMBC, Towson, Loyola, Coppin State, Morgan State, and the University of Baltimore were all NCAA Division II members and all part of the same league – the Mason-Dixon Athletic Conference. Rivalries were intense as many of the players came from the Baltimore-DC corridor.
Future pros, like Morgan's Marvin Webster, were competing at these schools. The Bullets had bolted for Largo. And this was before ESPN came around, so, to see live, high quality basketball, you had to be in the gym.
UMBC was the newcomer to the scene and started to get very competitive in the 1976-77 season. But the MDAC broke up after the 1977-78 season as several schools left to enter the Division I ranks. Entering the 1978-79 season, head coach Billy Jones' squad featured three standout seniors all from Parkville High School – post John Goedeke and guards Howie and Jack Kane. Howie Kane played his first two seasons at American University, but transferred to compete with his brother during their final two college campaigns.
The Retrievers struggled out of the gate – posting a 3-4 record through seven games. But then, the team caught fire, winning 13 of 14 games with the lone setback occurring, 76-74, at Navy. The Retrievers swept home-and-home series with rivals Towson State and Mount St. Mary, but would have to take on the Mount for a third time in the NCAA South Atlantic regionals.
UMBC prevailed, 79-74, then hosted traditional power Virginia Union in the round of 16. The Retrievers trailed at the half, but Howie Kane scored 12 of his 16 points in the second half as UMBC rallied for a 58-56 victory.
That triumph set up the quarter-final match-up of Cheyney State at UMBC. Cheyney was coached by the fiery John Chaney, who would go on to a Hall of Fame coaching career. Over 3,600 fans packed the UMBC Fieldhouse (as it was known in those days), easily surpassing the previous school record.
Using the crowd's energy, UMBC extended a 32-31 halftime lead to 54-41 with 9:25 remaining. Howie Kane scored eight straight points for the Retrievers in that stretch and coaches, players and fans were thinking about their reservations for Springfield, Mass., and the national semifinals.
But the Wolves responded with a 19-2 surge and took a 60-56 lead with 2:27 remaining. UMBC would knot the game at 60-all on a pair of Reggie Nance free throws at the 1:45 mark, but came up empty on its next two possessions as the visitors buried four charity tosses and broke the Retrievers' heart, 65-62.
Nance led UMBC (21-8) with 17 points, while Kane added 14. UMBC was ranked No. 6 in the nation in the final NCAA Division II poll. Led by Nance, the 1979-80 team posted a 23-5 mark, but were knocked out by Virginia Union in the round of 16.
Nance, Goedeke and Jack Kane were all inducted into the UMBC Athletics Hall of Fame. The attendance mark stood for 25 years until a crowd of 3,664 saw UMBC battle Maine on Feb. 21, 2004.