BALTIMORE, Md. — Fans of the UMBC Retrievers have been waiting a long time for this night.
Entering their first round game against the Fairfield Stags in the 2017 CIT, the Retrievers had yet to win a Division I post-season game in their history. They made it to the NCAA Tournament back in 2008, but fell in the opening round to the Georgetown Hoyas.
Playing on their home court on Wednesday gave the Retrievers an extra boost of confidence. They were 10-4 inside RAC Arena during the regular season, and the Retrievers were looking for their 19th win of the season overall.
At the break, the Retrievers held a five-point lead, and looked to be well on their way to a victory. Fairfield came out on fire in the second half, eliminating the Retrievers’ lead before the first media timeout.
The second half saw both teams go on lengthy runs to take leads of their own. In the end, the Retrievers got the last laugh. An 11-2 run pushed the home side ahead for good, and they came away with the 88-83 win over Fairfield to advance to the second round of the 2017 CIT.
Five players scored in double-figures for the Retrievers, led by junior guard Jairus Lyles, who scored a team-high 20 points to go along with six rebounds and three assists. Will Darley added 17 points of his own, on 6-of-10 shooting from the field.
For the Stags, it was the play of Matija Milin and Tyler Nelson that kept the team in the game to open the second half. After Darley hit a jumper to open the scoring in the second, the Stags went on a run and took a four-point lead of their own.
Over the Stags’ 16-5 run, Milin hit a trio of three pointers to pace the offensive attack for Fairfield. Nelson was a factor in each of the baskets for the Stags, either recording an assist or scoring himself. He scored five points and picked up four assists over the three-plus minute run.
Nelson finished the night with a game-high 30 points to go along with his 10 rebounds and seven assists.
After Milin hit a pair of free throws to give the Stags a 61-60 lead with 11:45 to play, KJ Maura connected on one of his three triples in the game to put UMBC in the lead for good, at 63-61.
UMBC used an 11-2 run to push their lead to eight points, which then increased to 10 just a few moments later. At 78-68, the momentum was squarely behind the Retrievers, and while the Stags did their best to mount a late comeback, they fell short in the end.
For the first time in their Division I history, the UMBC Retrievers won a post-season game at the top level, knocking off Fairfield, 88-83, to advance in the 2017 CollegeInsider.com Tournament.
With the win, the 2016-17 edition of the Retrievers reached 19 wins, which ties them with the 1988-89 team for the third-most in a season.
The UMBC Retrievers (19-13) will now wait to find out their second round opponent. The top three teams left standing after the opening round receive a bye to the quarter-finals.
Following the loss, the 2016-17 season has come to an end for the Fairfield Stags (16-15). But, the future looks bright for the program, as several key pieces are back next year for another kick at the can.
– T. Bennett