By Todd Carton –
As the game clock ticked toward zero and Kansas State leading 50-41 Sunday night in Charlotte, it was evident that UMBC’s slipper was not only made of glass but was about to shatter. Coach Ryan Odom had emptied his bench allowing the crowd to acknowledge his team’s accomplishment and his seldom used players the chance to take the court in an NCAA game.
In their brief playing time, those five players displayed the same never give up grit as their teammates as Brandon Horvath corralled a rebound off a missed free throw and Isaiah Rogers scored on a buzzer beating put back to settle the final score at 50-43.
It was a difficult night for the Retrievers as Joe Sherburne, the school’s first Division I academic All-American missed all nine of his shots including 0-4 from behind the arc and the front end of a one and one in his only trip to the free throw line late in the first half. Jairus Lyles, the hero of UMBC’s win over both Vermont in the America East Tournament championship game and Friday’s history making upset of Virginia, also struggled on the offensive end where he shot just 4-15 and, though an 80 percent free throw shooter for the season, made only 3-6 from the line.
But these two players were not the only ones to unable to overcome the emotional hangover from their first round win. After making 12-24 three point shots against UVA, the Retrievers were 6-22 from that range on Sunday and shot only 29.8 percent for the game.
But the “Dawgs”, as their stalwart fans call them, were able to find the energy to make a terrific effort on the defensive end. At one point in the second half, UMBC had seven consecutive possessions with a chance to take the lead and failed each time. Sometimes that was certainly attributable to Kansas State’s equally intense defensive pressure and sometimes the Retrievers simply missed shots they normally make.
As I noted in my previous story, the formula for an underdog in a game like this – and make no mistake the Retrievers were again underdogs – is to make three point shots and compete close to evenly on the boards. UMBC did barely enough on the glass losing the rebound battle by seven but, in the end, the poor shooting proved too much for the Retrievers to overcome.
In the end though, as Bruce Posner texted me, “UMBC had the biggest win ever.” And in the end, no one will be able to erase that from the hearts, minds and memories not only of the gritty UMBC squad but of college basketball fans everywhere.