BALTIMORE (WJZ) — The UMBC Retrievers did what 135 other 16th seeded teams in men’s NCAA Tournament history couldn’t do, and they made it look easy. In front of a raucous crowd at the Spectrum Center, the only team from Maryland to make the big dance this year defeated the top-seeded Virginia Cavaliers, 74-54, in arguably the greatest upset in NCAA history.
The Retrievers are the first 16-seed to do what was widely deemed impossible by many: taking out a #1 seed, and in effect crushing millions of brackets across the nation. Few people likely pegged the University of Maryland-Baltimore County as the ones to pull off the feat. They came into the game 20.5-point underdogs and viewed as hardly a threat to a team that went 31-2 during the season.
“Unbelievable — it’s really all you can say,” UMBC coach Ryan Odom said. “You feel for [Virginia]. But, that certainly doesn’t take away the happiness that I have for these guys right here. These guys have worked extremely hard to earn a moment like this.”
Fans on campus in Baltimore donned their gold and black to watch every second and cheer.
“I can barely breathe, I don’t have words, I’m so hyped for this right now,” one student told WJZ.
It seemed like a tall task early on, after only scoring three points in the first seven-plus minutes of the game after falling behind 7-3, but hard-nosed defense kept the Retrievers close throughout the first half. Though the Cavaliers gave up just an average of six 3-point shots to opponents coming into the game, UMBC sunk five in the first half. Combined with a stifling defense that kept UVA mostly quiet — the team shot just 39.1 percent from the floor during the half — they entered the locker room at halftime tied at 21. (No 16-seed had ever tied a 1-seed at the half.)
One might think that the momentum would diminish and the Cavaliers would come out roaring in the second half, but the Retrievers picked up right where they left off. Junior forward Joe Sherburne turned a 3-point play on a fouled layup, before coming back seconds later to hit a 3-pointer that put UMBC up by six.
They’d never look back.
“We were up seven right away in the second half, and we were getting real excited on the bench but there was still like 16 minutes left in the second half,” said Sherburne. “I personally was trying to stay really level-headed and you know that they can come right back right away real quick because they’re the No. 1 team in the country for a reason.”
Senior guard Jairus Lyles led the team with 28 points and was on fire in the second half. After nailing a 3-pointer to put UMBC up 32-24, he was fouled on another 3-point attempt and made all three shots. Fifty-two seconds later he’d drop another three to put the Retrievers up by 14.
“I don’t think there was any point in the game that we thought we couldn’t play with them,” said Lyles.
The momentum never left UMBC’s side.
The 74 points were the most Virginia had allowed this year.
Students at the Catonsville campus were elated, celebrating the win into the early morning hours. “We’re doing a parade around campus after we win this,” another student at the UMBC watch party said.
Gov. Larry Hogan tweeted his bracket, which has UMBC winning the tournament. To put it in perspective, according to CBS Sports, 99.4% of brackets had UVA winning this game. More than half of those who filled out brackets had the Cavaliers going to the final four (55.6%), and nearly a quarter (23.4%) had them winning it all.
The game was only the second time in UMBC history that they’d reached the NCAA tournament. In 2008, they entered as a 15-seed, losing to second-seeded Georgetown in the first round. They’ll go on to play Kansas State and continue their historic run in the second round Sunday.
Regardless of what happens, the Retrievers have left their mark in March Madness lore. The win will stand as not only one of the greatest upsets in the tourney, but will surely go down as one of the most unbelievable moments in all of sports.
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