BALTIMORE - UMBC graduate student guard Jairus Lyles (Silver Spring, Md./DeMatha) tied a season-high with 31 points, including the Retrievers' final 11 points of the game as UMBC (8-5) edged visiting Northern Kentucky (7-4), 76-75, in a match-up of two of the four most improved teams in the nation from a year ago.
Known for their prolific offense, the Retrievers used some stingy defense down the stretch to secure the win. UMBC got stops on six of NKU's final eight possessions, including securing the rebound of Norse guard Lavone Holland came up just short a driving layup with three seconds remaining.
"We are proud of today's victory, said head coach Ryan Odom. "NKU is well-coached, they had a great season last year and are off to a great start this year. it was a hard, hard-fought win for us. We can learn a lot from it. I'm proud of our guys, then can now relax and spend time with their families after finals."
The game featured 13 lead changes and 12 ties and the largest lead was a six-point advantage by NKU in the first half.
The Norse took their final lead at 72-70 on a layup by Jordan Garnett with 5:15 remaining. But Lyles converted a driving layup on the right side to knot the score, and after an NKU turnover, he drew a foul on Holland and converted a pair to give the Retrievers a 74-72 lead with 3:17 remaining. NKU's Drew McDonald knocked down a short jumper with 1:54 to play to re-tie the contest, but Lyles countered with a lean-up jumper just 22 seconds later.
Holland missed one of two free throws for the visitors with 1:19 to play. The Retrievers misfired on two treys, sandwiched around an NKU missed jumper to set up the final sequence.
Lyles, who did not score until 7:36 remained in the first half, hit 9-of-21 shots from the floor, 3-of-7 from behind the arc and 10-of-13 from the charity stripe. He distributed the ball as well, adding six assists and the America East's top thief came up with a pair of steals.
"Jarius was great… he carried us, said Odom. "He was able to get to the basket, made tough shots and made the right decisions. All in all, it was a great effort from him."
Lyles tied his season high, as he also scored 31 at Arizona on Nov. 12. It was the sixth 30-plus point game of his career.
UMBC junior wing Joe Sherburne (Whitefish Bay, Wisc.) added 11 points, knocking down 3-of-5 from behind the arc and senior guard Jourdan Grant (Bowie, Md./Archbishop Spalding) added 10 in support of Lyles.
NKU junior post Drew McDonald posted a double-double with 24 points and a game-high 11 rebounds for the visitors. Sophomore forward Carson Williams, one of the nation's premier interior scorers, hit 8-of-11 field goal attempts and finished with 21 points.
Both teams played true to their outstanding play over the past year and change with outstanding offensive efficiency in the first half. The Norse hit 7-of-11 shots from behind the arc, while the Retrievers, who looked to get the ball inside more in the first 20 minutes, still managed to sink 5-of-7 shots from long range.
NKU led for most of the first half, building a six-point margin at 38-32 at the 4:33 mark of the period. But Sherburne and Maura hit back-to-back treys to cap a 10-3 Retriever reply and take a 42-41 advantage. UMBC committed only its third turnover of the half on its final possession and the teams went to the locker rooms knotted at 43-all.
UMBC improved to 6-0 at home this season and have won 11 of 12 at the RAC Arena, dating back to last season.
UMBC managed to win despite shooting 31.3 percent in the second half and 41.7 percent (25-of-60) for the game. The Norse, who hit 13 of their first 21 shots, only converted 14 of their final 35 and finished at 48.2 percent (27-of-56). The rebounding numbers (34-all) and points in the paint were both dead even (28-all).
The Retrievers continued their streak of hitting 10 or more treys in a game, by knocking down 10-of-23 (43.5 percent). UMBC has 10 or more in 12 straight games this season.
UMBC will face the second of back-to-back 2017 NCAA Tournament teams on Friday, Dec. 29, when they make the short trip down I-95 south to take on the Maryland Terrapins.