CHARLOTTE — Virginia was on the wrong end of the most improbable upset in men’s college basketball history Friday night, falling to Maryland Baltimore County, 74-54, to become the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 in the NCAA tournament.
No. 16 seeds had lost their previous 135 games to No. 1s since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. The Retrievers ended the streak in the South Region at Spectrum Center, and they did so convincingly, turning a close game against the top overall seed in the tournament into a second-half blowout.
In just its second NCAA appearance, UMBC (25-10) never trailed after intermission and advanced to Sunday’s round of 32 to face No. 9 Kansas State. The Retrievers made 12 of 24 three-pointers and handled the Cavaliers’ vaunted pack-line defense with 54.2 percent shooting overall.
Virginia (31-3) went 4 for 22 from three-point range and had just five assists, a shockingly low number for a club that prides itself on sharing the basketball. It was outrebounded 33-22 by the far smaller Retrievers.
“We talked about it before the game, to go out there and try to make history,” said UMBC graduate guard Jairus Lyles, a former standout at DeMatha who scored a game-high 28 points on 9-for-11 shooting. “It’s a very special moment for us.”
By the time Arkel Lamar made a three-pointer with 3:35 left in the game, UMBC led 61-44 and had the crowd cheering wildly in anticipation of the Retrievers completing a remarkable feat reminiscent of another ignominious Virginia loss.
In 1982, the Cavaliers, then ranked first in the country, fell to little-known Chaminade during a holiday tournament in Hawaii. That loss was long considered one of the greatest upsets in college sports history, but it now has company.
“Not really a whole lot can prepare you for this kind of feeling,” Virginia guard Kyle Guy said, holding back tears. “There’s really not an answer that will make you feel better in this situation.”
The stunning loss ends a season for Virginia that had peaked with an ACC tournament championship last week and expectations of the school’s first national title. It marked the third time Virginia had earned a No. 1 seed under Coach Tony Bennett only to fail to reach the Final Four. This was, however, the Cavaliers’ earliest and most painful exit.
Virginia lost as a No. 1 seed in 2016 in the regional finals, blowing a 16-point second-half lead to Syracuse, and in the round of 16 in 2014 to Michigan State.
“They thoroughly outplayed us,” Bennett said. “Very hard to guard offensively, and they defended us well. We didn’t do the job. I told these guys in the locker room, we were cutting down nets at the ACC tournament and how good that felt, and we had a historic season, and then we had a historic loss, the first one seed to lose. That’s life.”
With the score tied at halftime, the Retrievers used a 17-3 flurry to move in front 38-24. Junior guard Joe Sherburne had two three-pointers and a three-point play in that time. UMBC stretched the margin to 41-27 with 14:57 to play on a three-pointer by Lyles.
While Virginia continued to struggle mightily on offense, the Retrievers kept attacking, either getting into the lane for layups or passing the ball out for open looks from three-point range.
In a scintillating stretch of scoring prowess, Lyles made three free throws, a three-pointer, back-to-back layups and a contested floater in the lane with the shot clock about to expire. Point guard K.J. Maura followed with a three-pointer for a 50-34 lead with 8:32 left in the game.
“They spread the floor. They made shots,” Cavaliers guard Ty Jerome said. “We didn’t defend well. We didn’t pass the ball well. We didn’t come off screens well. We didn’t anything well tonight, to be honest.”
For UMBC, simply reaching the NCAA tournament was representative of just how far the program has progressed under second-year coach Ryan Odom. The Retrievers have won 46 games since his arrival at the Catonsville, Md., school after winning just 41 games combined over the previous seven seasons .
Facing Virginia proved somewhat bittersweet for Odom, he indicated earlier this week, given his father’s ties to the Cavaliers. Dave Odom was an assistant on then-Virginia men’s basketball coach Terry Holland’s staff from 1982 to 1989, and Ryan served as a ballboy while growing up in Charlottesville, a short walk from University Hall.
Still, the experience of playing in the NCAA tournament has provided national exposure for UMBC unlike anything previous, according to university officials.
The only representative from the state of Maryland in the NCAA tournament, UMBC secured its first berth since 2008 by beating Vermont, 65-62, on a three-pointer at the buzzer by Lyles in the America East championship game March 10 in Burlington, Vt.
The Cavaliers had some improbable moments of their own this season on the way to a record-setting run through the ACC in which they became the first school to win 17 games in the conference and go 9-0 on the road.
The most dramatic of those road wins came against Louisville, 67-66, on March 1 when De’Andre Hunter banked in a three-pointer at the buzzer, completing a comeback in which Virginia scored five points in a less than a second.
But Hunter sat by himself on a folding chair watching a pregame layup line wearing blue sweats and a brace on his broken left wrist. The ACC sixth man of the year was a cheerleader after a hard fall in last week’s conference tournament, becoming the first player for the Cavaliers to miss a game this season because of injury.
Virginia certainly could have used the most versatile member of its roster in the first half against the Retrievers, who kept it close throughout with just enough stops on defense and timely three-point shooting.
With the Cavaliers threatening to open a double-digit lead, UMBC made three shots from beyond the arc for a 19-16 lead with 3:10 left until intermission.
The score was tied at 21 going into the locker room, with Virginia scoring its fewest points in a first half this season.
“Unbelievable,” Ryan Odom said. “So proud of these kids. I take so much joy in watching them smile, not just at the end there but throughout the game. I think it’s pretty easy to tell these guys have passion. These guys love to play this game. This game means a lot to them. It was just a special, special effort.”
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