March 20, 2018

UMBC, savoring first NCAA tourney bid since 2008, draws No. 1 Virginia on Friday

The UMBC men's basketball team will face No. 1 Virginia on Friday night in the Round of 64, its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2008. Courtesy of UMBC athletics.

Hundreds sporting black and gold attire packed UMBC’s Retriever Sports Zone on Saturday night, with eyes glued to the projector that aired the NCAA tournament’s men’s basketball selection show.

Fans, alumni, and students were the majority in attendance, standing and sitting shoulder-to-shoulder, nudging and rising to their toes, just to maximize their taste of history. Even kitchen workers stopped duties for a second to soak in the atmosphere. Cheerleaders lined the rear of the room and the pep band made an appearance, too.

But the UMBC men’s basketball team, donning gray hoodies, black sweats and blacks hats embroidered with “America East CHAMPS” in white letters, garnered the limelight, on campus and on the national stage. Just minutes into the 6 p.m. show, the broadcast cut to a live-stream inside the Sports Zone. “How about the UMBC Retrievers?” CBS’s Greg Gumbel said over the room that filled with jubilant cheers.

Not long after, in the first pairing of the first revealed region, UMBC saw their name in the 68-team field as a long-shot 16-seed, and above was their opponent: No. 1 Virginia. For the first time since 2008, UMBC savored this moment. How it got here is what March is all about: Daggers and Madness.

On Saturday afternoon, the Retrievers played at top-seeded Vermont in the America East Conference title game. All odds were staked UMBC, having lost both games to the Catamounts this year by double digits — including a 28-point beat-down at home — and had dropped 23 straight games in the series, too. And at the beginning of the conference tournament, KenPom gave the Retrievers a 9.3 percent chance of going to the NCAA tournament, while Vermont’s odds were over 70 percent. 

But when the game’s final seconds arrived, and with the score gridlocked at 62, UMBC junior guard and DeMatha alum Jairus Lyles delivered an already signature moment of Madness 2k18, when he emphatically drilled the game-winning 3-pointer in the face of Vermont’s Trae Bell-Haynes, the league’s Player of the Year, to send his Retrievers dancing. 

“He said after the game, ‘That’s the shot I’ve been working on all year before and after practice,’ and that’s true,” junior forward Joe Sherburne said. “He’s always doing those dribbles right into 3s. He’s the hardest worker and he’s the most talented. That’s a pretty good combination.”

Lyles, who leads UMBC in scoring (20.2 points per game) to go along with 5.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists, also put a D.C.-Maryland college in the big dance for the 40th consecutive year. The streak appeared to be in major jeopardy, given down seasons from Georgetown and Maryland and the early exits from Mount St. Mary’s and Towson in the respective conference tournaments.

“To be the only team in the D.C. and Maryland area is even more special,” Lyles said. “You have to represent for Maryland.”

On this play, Jairus Lyles sent UMBC to the big dance. Courtesy of UMBC athletics.

“It’s great for our area,” UMBC coach Ryan Odom said. “Our area is one of the most basketball rich recruiting footprints around. You can put it up against any of the other top-notch ones. … It mean’s a ton. Most importantly, I’m excited to see these kids smile. Their hard work has paid off.”

Odom’s hard work had paid off, too. When he took over the program in 2016-17, UMBC was coming off just a seven-win season the year prior. The year before? Four wins. Odom steered the Retrievers to 21 wins in his first season and this year they’re at 24. 

The second-year coach said he received an estimated 200 texts since Saturday, coming from family, Maryland coach Mark Turgeon and even Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder.



Vegas already has Virginia as 22 1/2-point favorites. KenPom says UMBC has a 3 percent chance. Since 1985, no 16 seed has beaten a 1 seed. However, 16-seeded Mount St. Mary’s led top-seeded Villanova for 19 minutes in last year’s tournament before losing 76-56. If, by any stretch of the imagination, UMBC is able to somehow, someway get win No. 25, it would be undoubetdly the biggest upset in NCAA tournament history.

“We started our season at Arizona and SMU for a reason, and then Maryland in December,” Odom said. “We wanted to face a team of that caliber. Arizona was the No. 1 team in the country at that time, or pretty close to it. We wanted to test ourselves against that type of talent for this moment. … I don’t think our guys will be wowed by that, but it’s going to be a tall order without a doubt.”

About Kyle McFadden 416 Articles
Kyle McFadden is a graduate from Linganore High School's Class of 2014, a sports junkie and general news-hound. He got his start as a sports writer in January 2014 for Linganore's student-run newspaper The Lance, where he wrote 13 articles. McFadden then launched his own blog in October 2014 called The Beltway Dispatch covering collegiate, local high school and professional sports. Formally known as The Beltway Dispatch, McFadden and Evan Engelhard merged respective platforms in June 2015 to make what is now Maryland Sports Access. With baseball, basketball and golf experience, McFadden brings ample knowledge to the helm of MSA. McFadden covers a wide variety of sports in football, baseball, basketball, golf, hockey, lacrosse, soccer and specializes in the collegiate and high school levels. McFadden volunteers his time at Damascus Road Community Church -- serving as a mentor to the youth, basketball coach at the varsity and junior varsity levels, and leads a small group of high school sophomores every Wednesday night. Although he's only been around journalism since January 2014, he's a high school sports reporter for The Baltimore Sun and freelancer for The Frederick News-Post. McFadden's work has also appeared in DMV newspapers The Aegis, The Capital Gazette, The Daily Times (Delmarva Now), The Hometown Observer, Howard County Times, Germantown Pulse and The Towson Times. He's also won two Mike Powell Excellence in Journalism awards and has appeared on The Best of SNO, which showcases top student work of high school and college journalists. McFadden currently studies at Frederick Community College and plans to transfer to the University of Maryland in the fall of 2018 to work on a bachelor's degree in journalism with aspirations to be a national college basketball writer.
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