CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Good dog! Very good dog!
The UMBC Retrievers pulled off the previously impossible Friday night, making NCAA Tournament history in Charlotte by upsetting Virginia 74-54 before an absolutely shocked crowd at the Spectrum Center.
Before the late game in Charlotte, No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament were 135-0 against No. 16 seeds. Make that 135-1, as the Retrievers stunned the tournament's No. 1 overall seed with an underdog performance for the ages.
The upset was coached by Ryan Odom, the son of former Wake Forest coach Dave Odom.
ADVANCE THE BRACKET pic.twitter.com/v7GhTZMDWy— UMBC Athletics (@UMBCAthletics) March 17, 2018
There have been huge upsets in NCAA finals, absolutely – N.C. State over Houston, Villanova over Georgetown. But a team from the America East conference beating the ACC regular-season and tournament champion in Virginia, a club that came in 31-2 and was favored by many to win the 2018 NCAA championship?
You don't see that every day, or every decade. In fact, no one has seen it since 1985, when the NCAA field expanded to 64 teams and the annual "1 vs. 16" battles became a four-part symphony of predictability. Each year four No. 1s face off against four No. 16s, and each year we hope for something amazing.
And each year, until this time, it didn't happen.
UMBC – which stands for University of Maryland, Baltimore County – wasn't even supposed to make the NCAA Tournament. It needed a last-second shot to get to Charlotte, beating favored Vermont. UMBC also lost 83-39 to Albany this season. It lost to Colgate. It lost to Army.
UMBC took down Vermont for the first time in over a decade IN DRAMATIC FASHION... and punched a ticket to the tourney! pic.twitter.com/j409FUMkZp— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 10, 2018
But the Retrievers did something they will never forget Friday night, breaking open a 21-21 halftime tie with an incredible burst to start the second half. Virginia had never allowed 70 points all season – until now.
Jairus Lyles, who hit the buzzer-beater to get UMBC to the NCAA tourney in the first place, kept driving and scoring and Joe Sherburne knocked down 3s and a 5-foot-8, 140-pound point guard named K.J. Maura started doing a Harlem Globetrotter dribbling routine and basically a bunch of players you never heard of started blasting a Virginia team that went 20-1 against ACC opponents this season.
"These are the moments that you dream of," Lyles said.
UMBC is LIT right now pic.twitter.com/aYOwbGsiyD— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) March 17, 2018
This came when it mattered the most — in the NCAA Tournament.
The Cavaliers couldn't get anything generated on offense and the nation's top-ranked defense couldn't contain the American East Conference champions who won their conference tournament at the buzzer.
"Unbelievable — it's really all you can say," Odom said.
Virginia coach Tony Bennett called a timeout, and then another, and it didn't matter. UMBC stretched its lead to an incredible 16 points with 11 minutes, 44 seconds left in the game. Virginia started trying to climb back in it, but UMBC showed the sort of poise that the Wahoos have shown all season.
It's a devastating loss for Virginia – one that will rank with Chaminade's upset of a Ralph Sampson-led Wahoos team in 1982 as one of the biggest upsets ever.
But for UMBC, this is a game-changer.
For their players, it is a life-changer.
Charlotte witnessed history Friday night – in a game that will be remembered decades from now as one of the most famous to ever be played in the Queen City. And while Virginia never saw it coming, it was no fluke. UMBC outplayed the No.1 team in the country – and outplayed them by a lot – and the NCAA Tournament will never be exactly the same again.