By Todd Carton –
The world turned upside down as the clock neared midnight on March 16, 2018 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The voice of Dr. Peter Venkman shouting, “… dogs and cats living together. Mass hysteria!” echoed through my mind. My cell phone, normally quiet after nine p.m. erupted in such a burst of activity that I needed to silence the notification feature. And I had no words. The cataclysmic event that prompted this was UMBC’s 75-54 win over the Virginia Cavaliers in their opening game of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
For the first time in the 34 years since this tournament expanded to its current level of 64 teams, a 16th seeded Cinderella would remain at the ball for the round of 32 and this moment in history belongs to my alma mater. With the win, the Retrievers joined a club that had one other member – the 1998 Harvard Crimson whose 16th seeded women’s team defeated Stanford 71-67 twenty years and two days prior. The Crimson graciously welcomed the Retrievers with this Tweet:
— Harvard WBasketball (@HarvardWBB) March 17, 2018
And UMBC had a worthy response
You will always be the first and we are honored to be mentioned in the same category as that upset
— UMBC Athletics (@UMBCAthletics) March 17, 2018
The formula for an upset of this nature is simple in concept but rare in execution. The underdog needs to win the rebounding battle and needs to make lots of three point shots. UMBC checked both boxes out rebounding the Cavaliers 33-22 while connecting on 12 of 24 attempts from behind the arc.
After finishing the first half with just five points, graduate student Jairus Lyles, whose buzzer beating three pointer propelled the Retrievers over Vermont and into the Tournament in the America East title game, overcame his slow start by making eight of his nine second half shots and all five of his free throw attempts to finish with a game high 28 points. He added four rebounds and his three assists tied him with guard K. .J. Maura for the team lead.
Maura’s contribution to the upset went far beyond his line in the box score which included a pair of three point shots of his own while playing all 40 minutes. Virginia’s vaunted defense had no answer for the quickness and ball handling wizardry of the senior from San Juan, Puerto Rico who is listed on UMBC’s roster at a generous 5’8” and 140 pounds.
Additional contributions came from junior forward Joe Sherburne whose three point jumper and traditional three point play ignited the Retrievers’ 17-3 blitzkrieg to open the second half and turn a 21 all game into a 38-24 UMBC lead that had Virginia looking at its largest deficit of the season. While Lyles, Maura and Sherburne handled the three point shooting bit of the upset formula, junior Arkel Lamar quietly registered a double-double scoring 12 points and grabbing 10 rebounds.
UMBC will take the court Sunday night to face the region’s ninth seed, the Kansas State Wildcats 69-59 winners over eighth seeded Creighton. The Retrievers are one win from reaching the Sweet 16 and they are one deflating loss from a return to their campus home in Catonsville but win or lose, the UMBC Retrievers will forever hold Cinderella’s ultimate and historic slipper.
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