March Madness: UMBC defeated UVA last Friday night in one of the greatest upsets in all of sports
This past Friday night the University of Maryland, Baltimore County pulled off the biggest upset in the long history of the National Collegiate Athletic Association men’s basketball tournament. The Golden Retrievers did so by defeating the No. 1 team in the country, the University of Virginia, 74-54.
UMBC became the first No. 16 seed ever to win a game over a No. 1 seed. No. 16 seeds were 0-135 in the previous decades-long attempt to topple over the best teams in the nation. There had been a few close calls before, most notably in 1989, when Georgetown University narrowly defeated Princeton University by a point and the University of Oklahoma defeated East Tennessee State 72-71. In the past couple of decades, however, a No. 16 seed had not even put much of a scare into a No. 1 seed.
That all changed when UMBC came out of the gates firing on Friday. Led by a stellar defense, it was able to hold UVA’s offense as the teams went into the halftime break tied up at 21. Before the tournament set off, Virginia had lost one its better players in freshman guard De’Andre Hunter, who was the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Sixth Man of the Year. The Cavaliers were unable to make up for his absence.
While the game was close in the first half, the second half was anything but. UVA came into the game as the No. 1 ranked defense in the nation. Led by head coach Tony Bennett, Virginia plays a slowed-down type of game flow that makes it very difficult to get an offense into a rhythm. Their system fell apart as UMBC ripped them for over 50 points in the half.
Senior guard Jairus Lyles lit up the Cavaliers as he scored a game-high 28 points while playing almost the entire game. Lyles was an efficient 9-11 from the field, going nearly perfect in the second half. He hit three three-pointers during the contest, as well as seven free throws. Lyles has been the leader for UMBC throughout the season, most importantly in the final game before the NCAA Tournament. In the championship game of the American East Conference Tournament, Lyles made a buzzer-beating shot that stunned the University of Vermont and sent the Golden Retrievers into the NCAA Tournament. Lyles had averaged over 20 points this season, but his best performance came this weekend.
Overall, the guard play for UMBC was the strength of the team. While he stands at a relatively diminutive five feet eight inches, senior point guard K.J. Maura stood tall against constant full-court pressure from Virginia. Time and time again Maura escaped from double teams and traps and brought the ball up court. Maura was especially key during the brief time that Lyles came out of the game due to cramping. He played all 40 minutes of the contest, knocking down big shots and timely passes.
Virginia never seemed to escape the mindset that it had the chance to be on the wrong side of history. As UMBC jumped out to the lead as second half play began, players on UVA’s bench could be seen in visible shock. Even coach Bennett seemed to lose some of his established poise. In the arena and on Twitter feeds across the country, noise began to grow as time ticked down on the game. Even Jim Nantz, announcing the game on television, could barely contain his excitement as the realization sank in. A feat that many believed might never happen had actually occurred.
March Madness is always full of chaos, and this year has not been any different. With the No. 1 overall seed knocked out of the tournament, the field has been blown open. Other No. 1 seeds — Villanova University, the University of Kansas and Xavier University — will now look to take advantage of the opportunity while also trying to avoid Virginia’s fate.