BALTIMORE – Senior guard K.J. Maura (San Juan, P.R.) led a balanced attack with 18 points to lead host UMBC to a 75-60 victory over Hartford in the America East semi-final contest.
The second-seeded Retrievers (23-10) will travel to top-seeded Vermont (27-6) for a match-up with the Catamounts for the league championship and NCAA automatic berth.
It will mark UMBC's first title appearance since 2009, the second of back-to-back trips to the championship contest. The Retrievers earned their lone NCAA Division I Tournament bid in 2008, defeating Hartford, and fell to Binghamton in 2009.
Graduate student guard Jairus Lyles (Silver Spring, Md./DeMatha) and sophomore forward Arkel Lamar (Bridgeport, Conn.) added 13 points each for the Retrievers, while senior guard Jourdan Grant (Bowie, Md./Archbishop Spalding) and junior forward Joe Sherburne (Whitefish Bay, Wisc.) added 11 apiece.
Third-seeded Hartford (19-13) was led by junior forward John Carroll and junior guard Jason Dunne, who scored 15 points each.
UMBC led, 32-25, at halftime, and, after Hartford scored the second half's first basket, Lamar connected on a trey, starting a 9-0 run. Maura knocked down three field goals to ignite the crowd and give the Retrievers a 41-27 advantage at the 16:55 mark.
Hartford would be unable to trim the deficit to single digits the rest of the way. They would shave a 20-point deficit (56-36) in half, at 70-60, with a minute to play and got a UMBC turnover, but a missed trey six seconds later ended their comeback hopes.
UMBC won its fourth straight game and is riding its longest winning streak of the year heading into the title contest. The 23 wins is one shy of the school Division I record of 24, achieved by the 2007-08 team (24-9).
There were six lead changes in the first 20 minutes, but UMBC closed the first half on a 16-4 run to erase a five-point deficit and take a 32-25 advantage into the break. Lyles scored 11 first-half points, hitting 4-of-5 shots inside the arc.
The Retrievers shot 47.3 percent from the game (26-of-55) and held Hartford just above the 40 percent mark (21-of-52). UMBC finished with a 41-32 advantage on the glass, led by Sherburne (9) and Lamar (8).
Vermont swept the season series from UMBC, winning 71-56 in Burlington in January and 81-53 in the first game at the UMBC Event Center on February 3.