Fifty years ago today, September 19, 1966, several hundred students descended on what was formerly farmland in southwest Baltimore county. There were some thoughts of an athletic program, as the Chesapeake Bay Retriever, was quickly selected as the school's mascot.
As the university celebrates its 50th anniversary, Retriever Athletics is thrilled to be an integral part of its extremely successful, albeit brief history. Over the past two months, we have chronicled some of our finest moments.
Certainly, some programs and eras have been underrepresented, especially those student-athletes that competed before the 1990's. Until UMBC entered Division I conference play, a great number of our athletes that donned the black and gold played in relative anonymity. But they paved a path for the incredible feats that we have seen over the past quarter-decade.
The moment that was judged to have made the greatest impact occurred on March 15, 2008. It took place at the RAC Arena, one of two indoor facilities in the campus' history to host athletic competitions. It took place in front of a campus record crowd of 3,810 patrons.
UMBC was taking on Hartford for the 2008 America East Championship and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Neither team had ever competed in Division I's "Big Dance."
The Retrievers had enjoyed a magical season. Diminutive junior point guard Jay Greene was one of the top distributors in the nation and packed some scoring punch as well. Senior shooting guards Brian Hodges and Ray Barbosa could fill up the nets on any given night. Coppin State transfer Darryl Proctor, generously listed at 6'4", was, inch-for-inch and pound-for-pound, the best basketball player in the America East Conference. He was a double-double threat every time he stepped onto the floor. And role players Cavell Johnson, Justin Fry and Matt Spadafora rounded out the Magnificent Seven.
UMBC knocked off three Atlantic 10 teams early in the season and threw a major scare into Ohio State in Columbus. The Retrievers really hit their stride in league play, winning nine straight and clinching the regular season title with two games left in the campaign. But in the regular season finale, host Hartford nipped the Retrievers, 58-57, avenging a last-second Hodges trey which provided UMBC with an 86-85 victory in January.
Both teams survived the America East quarter and semi-finals to meet at UMBC for the title. In February, the RAC had become the place to be for students thrilled with their electric team and home court dominance.
The doors of the RAC opened at 10:00 a.m., and thousands of fans, with faces painted or carrying UMBC or ESPN-themed signs poured into the lower bowls and upper bleachers. Once the Down and Dirty Dawg band started to play, the electricity in the building was palpable. It would not recede for about four-and-a-half hours.
Along with the stands, press row was overflowing – nearly 50 media members surrounded the ESPN broadcast crew. But ESPN pulled power for its lighting from press row outlets and the result – the power on press row went out moments before tip-off time. Larry Hearn, of UMBC's electrical shop, literally had to crawl through Washington Post reporter and author John Feinstein's legs to re-establish a connection minutes into the action.
Back to the action. Right off the jump-ball, Hartford scored and got a huge dunk moments later from Anthony Minor to quiet the frenzied UMBC throng. But treys by Jay Greene and Matt Spadafora and a jumper by Jay Greene gave UMBC an 8-6 lead with 16:18 remaining.
Then came the onslaught.
In a scoring run to top all scoring runs, UMBC scored the next 20 points of the game. Greene started it with a trey and then, the other part of the dynamic duo, Proctor hit three straight jumpers. The next basket was described by Gary Stein and Paul Mittermeier as "Greene from the parking lot", and the trey put UMBC ahead, 20-6. When Brian Hodges came off the bench to connect from long distance, the Retrievers had the Hawks in the rear view at 28-6 with 9:20 to play in the half.
It was bedlam in the RAC Arena, but the Hawks still had 30 minutes to fight back. They did whittle the deficit to 41-23 at the break and started finding the mark from three-point early in the second stanza. With exactly nine minutes left, they had trimmed the deficit from 23 points to just 10 at 61-51.
But on the next possession, UMBC went inside to Proctor and the Retrievers' answer to Charles Barkley converted to stem the tide. Then, Hodges and Greene hit treys on successive possessions and Proctor capped the 10-0 run with a mid-range jumper. That put UMBC ahead, 71-51 with 5:32 remaining and the Retriever students started the celebration.
It ramped up another notch when Tyler Massey, Rodney Atkins and Frank McKnight replaced Greene, Ray Barbosa and Cavell Johnson with 52 seconds to play. The crowd got a false start penalty when a handful rushed onto the court – some hurdling press row – with a few seconds left on the clock. But when the scoreboard clock hit 0:00 and the score read, UMBC 82, Hartford 65, a full scale "rushing of the court" ensued.
The cameras captured Greene "popping" the UMBC on his jersey, then climbing onto press row to exhort anyone left in their seats. Confetti poured out onto the court as media members tried to corral exuberant Retrievers on the court. Spirit groups and parents, UMBC administrators and staffers embraced on the hardwood before the ladder came out and each player and coach cut a piece of the net, a tradition that very few thought would occur on Hilltop.
Saturday evening and late-night local television news led with the Retriever victory. Sunday morning headlines in the Baltimore Sun and Washington Post blared the improbable journey and columnists extolled the virtues of the basketball program and of the university.
A day later, the team gathered at the Commons to view the selection show. More media descended upon UMBC as the Retrievers found out they would face Georgetown on Friday, March 21 in Raleigh, N.C. An action shot of Greene appeared on the front cover of USA Today at the tournament's outset.
Although the Retrievers fell to the Hoyas, there was as much, if not more black-and-gold at the RBC Center than blue-and-gray. And certainly the enthusiasm of Retriever Nation exceeded that of a former national champion.
So, CBS "One Shining Moment" is our No. 1 Moment in the #retriever50for50 countdown.
Perhaps the biggest impact of that March day in the RAC will be experienced by the UMBC community, the southwest part of Baltimore County and the region in general in November of 2017. For, although an events center was in the university's master plan, the celebration of UMBC on that day gave the final impetus to the arduous process of constructing the facility.
Thanks for following the countdown and Happy 50th Anniversary, UMBC!!!
Credits: Writers- Steve Levy, David Castellanos. Graphics: David Castellanos, Zach Seidel. Principal Photography: Gail Burton, Harish Trivedi.