Two teams with a combined eight wins meeting at this point in the season can be considered little more than a glorified pillow fight. But Canisius College has the tendency from time to time to turn nothing into something.
The Golden Griffins' 21-point first-half lead dwindled to three with more than two minutes left against Maryland-Baltimore County. But thanks to a layup by Maryland native Harold Washington, and a fadeaway jumper by Reggie Groves, Canisius (5-22) snapped a 10-game losing streak and held off the Retrievers (4-23), 73-66, in a BracketBuster matchup Saturday in front of 832 at the Koessler Center.
"There's other BracketBuster games going on across the country. No one is tuning into Canisius and UMBC, that's just the way it is," Canisius coach Tom Parrotta said. "So what do we have to play for? We have to play for ourselves and the things that we've done in practice."
No, this wasn't a game pairing the nation's elite. UMBC is 3-11 in the America East Conference, with two of its victories coming against winless Binghamton. Canisius, 1-15 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, also has a win over Binghamton back on Dec. 28 but is 2-13 since.
On Saturday, the Golden Griffins appeared to shake off memories of last week's overtime loss to rival Niagara. Junior guard Alshwan Hymes scored 19 of his team-high 23 points in the first 20 minutes as Canisius built a 21-point lead and went into halftime with a 43-28 advantage.
"It's always good when your teammates are finding you for open shots and you get things going," said Hymes, who had the potential tying three-pointer against the Purple Eagles rim out. "You have to keep feeding off of it and I think my shot started to open things up for my teammates. We built a good lead in the first half and it had us going good into halftime. And it helped us out in the second half when they went on that run."
The run started just before the halftime buzzer when UMBC's Ryan Cook canned a three-pointer and the Retrievers carried that energy into the final 20 minutes.
They scored seven unanswered points to begin the second half to get Canisius' lead under double digits and they stayed hot with second-chance points (10 for the game) and 4-for-8 shooting from three-point range. The contest ebbed and flowed until two free throws by UMBC's Chase Plummer made it a one-possession game, 64-61, with 2:16 left.
Washington converted a layup with 2:01 left and, after a turnover by Cook, Groves hit a 15-footer to push the lead back up to seven, 68-61, with 1:12 remaining. UMBC got as close as five points twice more.
Washington, who finished with 16 points on 5-of-9 shooting, was more aggressive than usual at attacking the rim. He didn't want a repeat of the Rider game on Feb. 9 when the Griffs allowed a 10-point lead to evaporate and lost, 71-66.
"Basically I saw lanes and I just took them and tried to make contact," said Washington. .
Sophomore forward Chris Manhertz finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds for Canisius, which plays next at Manhattan on Friday.