Men's Basketball Knocks Off No. 3 Hartford, 69-62, to Advance to America East Tournament Semis

Ryan Cook hit his first six fg attempts in the second half.

ALBANY- The sixth-seeded UMBC Retrievers hit 15-of-19 second half field goal attempts and rallied to defeat No. 3 Hartford, 69-62, to advance to the America East semifinals for the fourth time in the last seven seasons.

UMBC (8-22) to play No. 2 Vermont (20-10),a 61-42 winner over No. 7 New Hampshire at 5:00 p.m. on Sunday.

"This is a huge win for our basketball program," head coach Aki Thomas said. "It's been awhile since we've gotten a win in the conference tournament. "I am very proud of and happy for our seniors who stepped up and did a [great] job. But it was a team effort, guys really battled- we just didn't want go away."  

Senior guards Ryan Cook (Laurel, Md./Pallotti) and Brian Neller (Red Bank, N.J./ Christian Bros. Acad.) scored 44 of the Retrievers' 69 points.  Cook scored 19 of his 24 points in the second half, as he hit 8-of-13 shots from the field. Neller buried 6-of-12 shots from behind the arc to amass his season high in scoring with 20 points.

UMBC shot a season-best 54.5 percent from the floor, converting on 24 of 44 field goal attempts. The Retrievers were an efficient 9-of-17 from behind the arc, including 5-of-6 in the final 20 minutes.  

Leading 24-22 at the half, Hartford outscored UMBC, 8-2, to open the second half. Senior forward Adrian Satchell (Windsor, Conn./Windsor) started the Retriever rally with a jumper, but then it was Cook who took control. He hit his first six field goal attempts of the half, scoring 12 straight Retriever points in a span of 2:59, to spur a 14-3 surge which gave UMBC a 38-35 advantage with 13:26 remaining.

The run would grow to 22-7 and the Retrievers had a 46-39 lead with 11:12 remaining. The Hawks would push back, however, trimming the deficit to one point on two occasions. They were within, 52-50, at the 5:38 mark, but UMBC, which struggled from the free throw line, witnessed Cook and junior forward Chase Plummer (Plainfield, N.J./St. Patrick) convert all four on back-to-back possession. Then Neller buried a left baseline trey to give a 60-51 advantage with 3:52 remaining.

Hartford (17-13) made one final run, as Wes Cole capped an 8-1 rally on a long baseline trey with 1:28 to play and the Retriever advantage had been trimmed to 61-59. But the gutsy Neller replied with a trey from the right baseline 15 seconds later. Hartford missed three-point attempts on their next two possessions and Satchell and freshman forward Malik Garner (Philadelphia, Pa./Chestnut Hill Acad.) answered with layups to seal the victory for the Retrievers.

Satchell and Garner led UMBC with seven rebounds each, as the Retrievers rallied to even the rebound battle at 29-all. Plummer scored all eight of his points in the second half and reached the 1,000-point mark in his career. He becomes the 17th Retriever to hit the plateau and eighth player in school history to reach that mark in three of fewer seasons.

Neller has set the UMBC single-season record with 88 three-point field goals, breaking Ray Barbosa's previous mark of 86, set in the 2007-08 season. The six treys matched a single-season high for the Retriever sharpshooter.

UMBC struggled with foul troubles and turnovers in the first half. Posts Chase Plummer and Adrian Satchell each picked up three fouls with Plummer playing only four minutes in the first stanza. The Retrievers committed 11 turnovers, but some gritty defense allowed them to stay right in the game. 

Hartford took a half-high five point lead at 17-12 on a field goal by Oren Faulk with 7:19 to play in the half. But sophomore guard Joey Getz (Philadelphia, Pa./Archbishop Wood) hit a baseline jumper and consecutive treys by Neller propelled UMBC back into the lead at 20-18 with 4:30 remaining.

Hartford's Nate Sikma hit a pair of free throws with 39 seconds to play in the half to give his side a 24-22 lead at the break. The Hawks were 7-of-10 from the charity stripe in the first half, while UMBC misfired on its lone attempt.

Sikma led the Hawks with 17 points, while sophomore All-Conference forward Mark Nwakamma added 13. Nwakamma fouled out of the game with 6:02 remaining.  

UMBC improved to 9-8 in league championship play and to 3-1 in the sixth-seeded position. The 2009 squad advanced to the finals with wins over Boston U. and Albany at SEFCU Arena.

The Retrievers are 1-3 vs. Vermont in league championship play. The Catamounts own an 11-game winning streak over UMBC.

UMBC's second-half field goal percentage of 78.9% is the second-best ever for a half in America East Championship history. The Retrievers also hold the best mark, hitting 18 of 21 (85.7%) vs. Stony Brook on in a 2005-06 first round game.