BALTIMORE – A furious UMBC (16-9, 7-5 America East) comeback came up just short, as America East leader Vermont (23-5, 13-0 AE) won its 15th straight game, surviving the Retriever rally, 77-74, before a frenzied crowd at the RAC Arena.
UMBC junior guard K.J. Maura (San Juan, P.R.) was brilliant in scoring the basketball for the second straight game, leading UMBC with 22 points on 8-of-12 shooting from the floor. Vermont senior guard Dre Wills equaled Maura with 22 points, but added 13 rebounds to lead all players.
Maura had a chance to send the game to overtime but, his desperation shot from 30 feet out was on line, but struck the front of the iron.
Vermont took a game-high 18-point lead at 62-44 with 6:47 remaining and led by 15 at 67-52 after a jumper by guard Trae Bell-Haynes with just 4:08 to play. But that field goal would be Vermont's last of the afternoon.
Bell-Haynes made one of two free throws with 2:32 to play to keep the visitors in command at 69-57 with 2:32 on the clock. But UMBC converted three field goals in a span of 22 seconds to cut the lead in half, as Maura hit a driving layup and junior backcourt mate Jairus Lyles (Silver Spring, Md./DeMatha) put in two straight layups after back-to-back Vermont turnovers in the backcourt.
Vermont would hit 2-of-4 free throws on its next two possessions before Maura drove to the basket for another bucket to keep the deficit at six. After another Catamount miscue, Lyles buried a trey from the left wing to make it 71-68 with 1:11 remaining.
Wills misfired on two free throw attempts and Maura converted two after he was fouled on a subsequent drive to the basket to cut the gap to 71-70 at the 50-second mark.
Vermont's Cam Ward hit one of two free throws, setting the stage as UMBC had a chance to tie or take the lead with under 40 seconds left. But Lyles' driving layup was blocked by Bell-Haynes and the ball hit off of Lyles and went out of bounds.
Bell-Haynes made two free throws with 28 seconds left, but it was Maura who responded with a baseline jumper to trim the deficit to 74-72 with 20 ticks left.
On the ensuing in-bounds play, Lyles snared his fifth steal of the game, but his baseline jumper was off the mark and Vermont's Anthony Lamb corralled the rebound and drew a foul. Lamb hit one of two free throws with ten seconds left, and Vermont quickly fouled Maura before UMBC could set up for a tying three-point attempt.
Maura hit two free throws with six seconds left and Vermont got the ball in Lamb's hands again on the in-bounds play. The freshman converted both shots, and the Retrievers advanced the ball inside mid-court before calling a time-out with 2.2 seconds left.
After one in-bounds pass was knocked over the sideline, Maura's second effort to find a teammate was batted back to him and his shot from the right side fell a tad short.
Lyles, entering the game at 19.6 points per game, scored only 2 points in the first 30 minutes, but finished with 14 points, six caroms and five steals. Senior Will Darley (Timonium, Md./Dulaney) added 13 points and set a school record in the process. Darley converted all three free throw attempts and has now made 31 in a row, breaking Terence Ward's mark, set in the 1998-99 campaign.
Vermont shot an efficient 50 percent (25-of-50) from the floor and converted 26 of 39 free throws, all but one of which occurred in the final 20 minutes. UMBC struggled for the first 35 minutes, but recovered to surpass the 40 percent mark (26-of-63, 41.3 percent) down the stretch. One of the nation's top twenty teams in treys made and efficiency converted only 5-of-14 shots from beyond the arc and was below par (17-of-25, 68 percent) from the charity stripe.
The league leaders dominated the glass, 46-24, and outscored UMBC, 18-4, on second chance points. But UMBC forced 10 second half UVM turnovers and recorded 18 points off those miscues. The Retrievers only turned the ball over five times.
The Retrievers started brightly, taking an early 9-2 lead after an off-balance, end-of-shot clock trey by sophomore Joe Sherburne (Whitefish Bay, Wis.) at the 15:55 mark. But Vermont came right back with a 9-0 run as UMBC missed five consecutive attempts from the floor.
Vermont led, 20-16, when 5'8" Maura went to work, driving past the bigger Catamounts and getting to the basket two of three times as he scored six straight points to give the hosts a 22-20 lead with 5:36 to play in the stanza.
But the Catamounts would use their size advantage to retake the lead and extend it to 32-27 at halftime. Vermont outrebounded, UMBC, 23-12, in the first half and outscored the Retrievers, 11-2, on second chance opportunities.
There were only 11 fouls whistled in the first 20 minutes and each team made only one free throw.
The Retrievers travel to New York to face Albany on Wednesday. The two teams are tied for third place, both at 7-5 in the conference.