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Retriever defense steps up in CIT win over Liberty

Jairus Lyles led UMBC with 20 points in 29 minutes against Liberty.

As their rebound season continues, the UMBC Retrievers men’s basketball team had one of their best defensive efforts of the year lead them to an 80-68 victory over the visiting Liberty Flames in the quarterfinals of the College Tournament.

UMBC has become known for their high-powered offense and lights-out shooting from 3-point range and while they were still able to top 80 points for a third straight time in this postseason against one of the best defensive teams in the country, the Retriever defense held Liberty in check for most of the game and made key stops when they needed.

“It was a really hard-fought game. For us, it was one of the most complete games we’ve seen from the tip to the end,” UMBC head coach Ryan Odom said. “I was particularly excited with how our guys defended. We weren’t perfect on defense… but we did a great job of just trying to force hard shots throughout the game. They made some and we were able to rebound and have our runs throughout the game that we needed in order to keep a working margin.”

The Retrievers built to as much as a 17-point lead at 53-36 with 16:02 remaining in the game. the Flames cut it all the way down to three points with 8:25 remaining in the game, but they would get no closer as Jairus Lyles completed a three-point play and UMBC created some separation against with an 8-2 run to get back up by nine points just a few minutes later.

“We’ve been able to do that all year. We’ve had teams come in and make runs and fortunately, our guys don’t get rattled too often,” Odom said. “They feel like the next shot is going to go down, trust their teammates and when you have that kind of mentality good things usually happen.”

Soon after Will Darley capped off the 8-2 run with a three-point play, Jourdan Grant and Rodney Elliott nailed back-to-back Retriever 3-pointers to get UMBC back ahead by double digits at 78-65 with 3:06 left in the game.

“We know that it’s a game of runs and they went on a good job in the middle of the second half and we were able to withstand it,” Elliott said. “When we came together on fouls and timeouts we were preaching getting stops and worry about getting stops and the offense would come. We know we’re able to score and we just wanted to make sure we got stops.”

Lyles led UMBC with 20 points on 7-for-11 shooting despite playing just 29 minutes and being seen on the sideline with ice wrapped around his knee during the second half. But he was one of just five Retrievers to reach double-digits on the scoreboard. Darley made three 3-pointers in an 18-point effort. Lyles became just the third player in UMBC history to reach the 600-point mark (604) in a single season and moved into 16th place on the Retrievers’ all-time scoring list with 1,086 points. Darley passed Ray Barbosa’s 2007-08 campaign on the single-season made 3-point list and at 87 on the year he is only four away from tying Brian Neller’s record from the 2012-13 campaign.

Elliott tied Darley with three 3-pointers in the game as he, Joe Sherburne and KJ Maura all finished with 11 points each.

Liberty had a much better second half shooting the ball than they a first half, but UMBC’s focus defensively limited the Flames to just 38.5-percent shooting from the field and helped them take a 40-30 lead into halftime.

Ryan Kemrite led Liberty with 13.6 points per game this year but was shutout in the first half and scored only three points in the entire game. With their top offensive weapon being shut down the Flames had to find other ways to score. Georgia Pacheo-Ortiz scored 23 points, marking his second-best effort of the season, but the Flames did not seem overly comfortable offensively in the game.

“We were focused on not giving them any clean looks,” Odom said. “Our goal was to arrive on the catch every time no matter who caught it.”

The Retrievers improved to 21-12 on the year with the victory. Their 21 wins are the second most in the program’s Division I history, trailing only their 24-wins in the 2007-08 America East Championship season. They will still have opportunities to gain more victories as they will host Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in the semifinals on Wednesday, March 29 at 7 pm. That game will be nationally televised on CBS Sports Network.

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Corey Johns

Editor in Chief
You could say Corey was born to become a sports journalist. His father won a national championship coaching college soccer. His mother is a baseball fanatic who hasn't missed seeing an Orioles game since 1983 (literally, sometimes it's annoying). His great uncle was a big-time boxing promoter and his maternal grandfather was once a department head at the Baltimore Sun. Basically, sports and journalism run through his blood. He played just about every little league sports there was when he was a kid and was a multi-sport athlete in high school; even playing in the first-ever high school sanction Rugby game in the country. Eventually he retired from sports as an undefeated Maryland state Rugby champion as a high school senior. Perhaps lack of athletic talent has more to do with the retirement, but he will tell you that it more had to do with a great desire to jump right into media. Upon his graduation from University of Maryland, Baltimore County as a triple communications major, Corey started the So Much Sports network and has continued to grow his websites and continues to work to make them premier sports media outlets.

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