The Vermont Catamounts (27-6) weren’t going to let the America East championship game come down to the final possession two years in a row. This time, a healthy Anthony Lamb scored 28 points and grabbed 9 rebounds during a 66-49 victory over the UMBC Retrievers (21-13). Saturday’s victory punched the NCAA ticket for the Catamounts. It’s their first appearance since 2017 when the Catamounts lost to the Purdue Boilermakers in the round of 64.
After the last 12 months, you may have thought the Retrievers had the upper hand. They won three straight games in the series and outscored the Catamounts by 22 points this season.
However, the Catamounts relied on a stifling defense for a full 40 minutes. They held the Retrievers to 34 percent shooting. Furthermore, the Retrievers were unable to get their 3-point shot to drop with regularity. They only connected on 30 percent of their shots from beyond the arc. As a result, the program that shocked a 1-seed last season only scored 20 points in the first half. Although they were down by eight, it seemed to be a daunting task ahead in the second half.
That’s exactly what happened. Once the Catamounts moved the lead to double digits, they never looked back as they continued to make the big plays down the stretch. Stef Smith joined Lamb in double figures with 17 points. He was the only other member to do so. Smith also grabbed eight rebounds in leading the defensive effort from the perimeter.
The Catamounts out rebounded the Retrievers 35-25. Moreover, they owned the defensive glass. Although the Retrievers missed 29 shots, they only snagged four offensive rebounds. Meanwhile, the Catamounts had 10 offensive rebounds. The Retrievers only made 15 shots on the day. Eight of those makes were from 3-point range. It just highlights how effective the Catamounts were in the paint.
Vermont will enter the NCAA Tournament with a six-game winning streak. Their last loss came to the Retrievers less than a month ago. It seemed like a repeat performance was in the making. Yet, the tenor of the game was much different from the outset. Now, it’s time for the Catamounts to get an upset for the America East.
Prior to the Retrievers’ NCAA Tournament victory over Virginia, the Catamounts had the biggest upset when they defeated the Syracuse Orange in 2004. With Lamb playing at an elite level, the Catamounts will have an opportunity to upset the field again.