Since the NCAA Division I Basketball Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, and then to 68 teams, the past few seasons, no No.16 seed had ever defeated a number one.
That is until Friday night in Charlotte, North Carolina when the Retrievers of UMBC (The University of Maryland – Baltimore County) defeated the number seed in the South region, Virginia
A commuter school with an enrollment of 13,839, the official UMBC motto is “UMBC is defined by makers, explorers, doers and dreamers”
For one fateful night, the Retrievers lived up to those words in stunning the Wahoos from Charlottesville. Somewhere above, UVA founder and former U.S. president Thomas Jefferson is still beside himself.
Senior guard K. J. Maura said “We got back to the hotel and all our fans were waiting in the lobby, a great feeling. After that, coaches encouraged us to go back to the room and I couldn’t sleep. I was up until like 5:00 in the morning.”
Graduate Student Jareus Lyles said our fans and family were waiting for us. We shared a little moment with them. Then our coaches told us to go upstairs and get some rest. We tried to go to sleep, but I don’t think anybody really got to sleep until about 4:00 a.m.
Lyles, the team’s leading scorer on the season averaging 20.2 points her game had with 28 in the victory over the Cavaliers who had decisively defeated UMBC in their three previous meetings all in Charlottesville. Were one of four players in double figures on the evening.
Lyles was no stranger to the NCAA Tournament as he played four seasons at Virginia Commonwealth playing in the tough Atlantic-10 conference. He also went to legendary DeMatha High in suburban Washington.
The victory was the first ever NCAA Tournament win in their second visit to the Field of 68, they had made it in 2007-08 losing in the first round to Georgetown.
For the America East Conference, it was just their fifth ever tournament win as UMBC joins Vermont, Albany, and Drexel as ‘giant killers’. The conference’s last two tournament wins came in the ‘First Four’ games. UMBC’s win was also the conference’s first opening round win since Vermont upset Syracuse in 2005.
Using what Paul Newman said to Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid “WHO ARE THESE GUYS?”
Their full name is the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, which is in the Baltimore County suburb of Catonsville about 10 miles from downtown (Camden Yards, Harborplace).
The school first started playing basketball in 1967-68. At that time, Baltimore had three professional teams with the American League Orioles, the NFL Colts, and the NBA Bullets. All of them consistent winners and seeing games televised from Memorial Stadium, and the Baltimore Civic Center were commonplace.
Over the years they moved into the NCAA and through the Divisions from D-II into Division I in 1992-93 joining the Big South Conference playing the likes of the College of Charleston & Coastal Carolina).
One year later they moved into the Northeast Conference facing teams like Monmouth, Robert Morris, and LIU-Brooklyn who made the tournament this season.
Then in 2003-04 they joined the America East Conference where they have been since.
In 2008 they won the AE Tournament making the NCAA Tournament for the first time in their history losing to Georgetown in the first round.
From 2013-16 the Retrievers were 4-26, 9-21, and 7-23 in those seasons and a change was necessary.
In the summer of 2016 they hired Ryan Odom as the ninth head coach in school history. Odom was an assistant coach at Charlotte before taking the job at Division II Lenoir-Rhyne in North Carolina and leading them to a Regional Final in the NCAA Division II Tournament.
His first year in Catonsville was a smashing success as UMBC went 21-13 playing in the College Invitational Tournament reaching the semi-finals before losing to Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in the semi-finals.
The season had a 13-win improvement from the season before only Minnesota and UCLA had better numbers and both of those teams made the NCAA Tournament.
Odom is the son of Dave Odom who was a longtime assistant under Terry Holland and Virginia and later head coach at Wake Forest who had a player by the name of Tim Duncan and then at South Carolina. At UVA under Holland he was the assistant when they went to the 1981 Final Four with Ralph Sampson and in 1984 with Ricky Stokes.
This season, the Terriers went 24-10 on their schedule they played the likes of SMU, Arizona, and Maryland.
They went 12-6 in America East Play they went 12-4 winning five of their last six regular season games. In the tournament, playing in their new 5.000 facility on campus the UMBC Events Center, the Retrievers defeated UMass-Lowell and Hartford before heading to top seed Vermont and beating the Catamounts on their home floor in Burlington 65-62.
The game with Virginia was stunning. When they had the lead at halftime, many though that UVA would take control in the second half. Then as the second 20 minutes went on they would not fold and they did not
Odom believes in analytics in College Basketball and studies the KemPom statistics.
For one night, UMBC had that “One Shining Moment” their game with Virginia will be talked about for years to come not only on campus but not it’s onto the second round against Kansas State who defeated Creighton in the first round.
When asked about a possible letdown against the Wildcats, Odom said “It’s always a concern. This is a historic event. And our guys, we knew that would be an issue. I’m not the type guy that’s going to take their phone. That’s just not how I do things. It’s more about they’ve got do the right thing, learn how to do the right thing. And, you know, for us, we experienced this on a much smaller scale when Jairus hit the shot at Vermont.”
In their young basketball history, UMBC has never played a school from the Big 12 Conference. The first will happen on Sunday.
And if they somehow defeat K-State, they head to Atlanta and the sweet 16 In the South Regional against one of the true blue-bloods in College Basketball in Kentucky.
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