HIGH POINT, N.C.– The University of Maryland Eastern Shore men's basketball team finished its campaign with a first-round loss in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament on Wednesday, 70-64 against the High Point Panthers. UMES (18-15, 11-5) ended its season with the loss, but the year culminated in a winning record and a postseason bid for the first time in three decades.
With an invite to the CIT, UMES earned a postseason berth for the first time since the 1980-81 season. Previous Hawks teams had competed in NAIA postseasons with only the 1973-74 team competing in an NCAA postseason in that year's NIT. In search of their first postseason victory in 34 years, UMES traveled to the Tar Heel State to take on the Big South's regular season co-champion.
In the opening minutes, it looked like the Hawks might run the 22-win High Point Panthers out of their own gym. UMES did not allow a point in the first five minutes, leaping out to a 9-0 lead. After a three-pointer by Iman Johnson, his first attempt and make of the season, UMES led 24-9 with eleven minutes to go in the first period. The 15-point lead began to dissipate as the Panthers' offense rounded into form. High Point closed the first half on a 13-2 run to tighten the gap to a one-point Hawks' lead at 32-31.
After halftime, the Hawks finally relinquished the lead with High Point's charge continuing. With 12:46 remaining, John Brown, the Panthers' leading scorer, tied the game at 40 with an emphatic dunk. Devante Wallace followed with a jumper to give High Point its first lead of the night, 42-40 with 12:07 left. Despite the momentum swinging the opposite way, UMES hung tough to keep the game tied at 45 until the under-8 media timeout. From there, High Point rattled off a crucial 11-1 run to open up a double-digit lead. UMES missed free throws down the stretch, an Achilles' heel at times throughout the season. Battling to the final whistle, the Hawks pulled with two possessions in the final 30 seconds, but it wasn't enough.
Both Mike Myers and Devin Martin finished with 13 points to lead UMES. Ishaq Pitt closed his Hawks' career with 10 points, eight rebounds and three assists. Brown for High Point, a First Team All-Big South selection each of the last three years, racked up 23 points including 11-of-12 free throws. Wallace made 3-of-5 three-pointers on his way to a 19-point performance.
While the teams' overall shooting percentages roughly matched up, the difference came at the foul line. High Point made 26-of-32 foul shots (81.3%), including the mark from Brown. UMES, meanwhile, made just 8-of-17 (47.1%) from the charity stripe. The Hawks also committed 18 turnovers compared to just a dozen for High Point. While UMES held the rebounding advantage, it was not enough to overcome the deficits in other facets of the game.
The Hawks conclude their year with an 18-15 overall record, the most wins by a UMES men's basketball team in 41 years. Though a first round exit in the CIT, the Hawks still managed to earn a postseason berth for the first time since 1981. The winning mark is the first above .500 record for a UMES team since the 1993-94 season, while the third-place finish in the MEAC is the best since that same year. The turnaround year also saw widespread recognition of the accomplishments in Princess Anne with Bobby Collins winning MEAC Coach of the Year, as well as freshman Ryan Andino winning MEAC Rookie of the Year. Myers remains in the running for National Mid-Major Player of the Year for both CollegeInsider.com and CollegeCourtReport.com.