At 9:36 p.m. on March 16, 2018, Seth Davis of CBS Sports seemed to have penciled in top-seeded University of Virginia over 16th-seeded University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) just one minute into the game. While it appeared to be an obvious selection for nearly anyone who filled out their annual March Madness bracket, the Cinderella story Retrievers were ready to shock the sports world and talk some trash as they did so.
Zach Seidel, who instantly became basketball’s favorite Twitter troll manning UMBC’s account, served as the voice of the Retrievers throughout their historic victory. With rhetorical questions asking “Y’all havin fun?,” constant jokes regarding UMBC’s skyrocketing enrollment and simply saying “sup” to ESPN for giving the team a 1.5 percent chance of winning, Seidel’s social media presence only augmented the significance of what was happening on the hardwood, which was nothing short of magical.
Virginia, a teamed ranked No. 1 overall with an utterly dominant 31-2 regular season record, was a lock for 18.5 percent of ESPN Tournament Challenge brackets to not only beat the Retrievers, but also capture the title. Backed by only 3.35 percent of participants and rightfully so, No. 16 UMBC was the irrefutable underdog in the matchup. Former guard Jairus Lyles ignored the numbers and went to work.
Averaging 18.9 points and 6.6 boards, and shooting an efficient 44.2 percent from the field, Lyles was ready to put the America East (AE) on the map and the college basketball world on notice. Even though history was made on that fateful Friday night, a highly contested prior AE Championship game featuring the Retrievers against the Vermont Catamounts shed light on the true magnitude of UMBC’s story.
Before the Retrievers became the nationally recognized Retrievers, they had been an average team in their conference that was always a step or two behind a more dominant UVM program. The Catamounts had defeated UMBC 23 consecutive times over the past 10 seasons and twice last year by a combined 45 points. A deep buzzer-beater 3-pointer with less than a second left lifted UMBC over Vermont, 65-62, and put all of the history of losing to the Catamounts to bed.
“I waved off the last play from the bench, tried to get some space and take the shot to end the game,” Lyles said.
Ice in his veins and 27 points to his name, Lyles single-handedly secured a postseason bid for the Retrievers and boosted his resume for an eventual NBA draft pick by the Utah Jazz. UMBC was set for its second Big Dance appearance since 2008, when it fell to Georgetown 64-47.
With what turned out to be the more difficult game in the past, the Retrievers rode their momentum and confidence into its most important matchup in 10 years. Although the Cavaliers and Retrievers battled to a 21-21 first-half tie, a halftime break was all Lyles and his squad needed to turn up the jets and become the first No. 16 seed to defeat a top seed in the NCAA Tournament.
UMBC took control of history when Lyles scored 23 points in the second half with two triples and shooting five for five at the charity stripe, when the team as whole shot nearly 70 percent from the field and 60 percent from long range and when UMBC posted 53 points in the final 20 minutes — one point shy of Virginia’s total. Lyles’ final stat line of 28 points, 9-11 from the field and three treys prompted him to point to the ceiling to celebrate.
“These are the moments that you dream of,” Lyles said. “It’s always exciting to make history.”
The Retrievers scored 74 points, the most UVA had allowed the entire year, even after playing top programs such as UNC and Duke, and became the first team ever to tack on a loss on No. 1 seeds’ now 135-1 record against No. 16 seeds in the tournament.