CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Jairus Lyles couldn’t suppress a smile, knowing that a school known more for chess than hoops had finally made it happen — a 16 ousting a 1 in March Madness.
The University of Maryland-Baltimore County stunned the sports world by pulling off the most shocking upset in college basketball history, hammering Virginia 74-54 on Friday night to become the first No. 16 seed ever to beat a No. 1 seed in the men’s NCAA Tournament.
UMBC secured its underdog legacy in sports lore, alongside Buster Douglas, the 1980 United States Olympic hockey team, Appalachian State football and Joe Namath’s Jets.
Virginia entered the NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 overall seed after going 31-2 in the regular season, including 20-1 in ACC competition.
The question wasn’t whether they would win this game, but if they would get to the Final Four and win it all.
But UMBC — a team most glanced over when filling out their brackets — didn’t just beat Virginia, it dominated throughout the second half, dismantling the 20 1/2-point favorites by 20 points in the other direction. To put things in perspective, UMBC scored 53 points in the second half — one shy of how many Virginia scored in the entire game.
In a chaotic UMBC locker room after the game, players shouted: “All brackets gone! No perfect brackets! Put that in the news!”
Lyles scored 23 of his 28 points in the second half and the Retrievers cruised to an easy victory before racing off the floor together in their yellow-and-black uniforms, fingers pointed toward the ceiling.
“These are the moments that you dream of,” Lyles said. “It’s always exciting to make history.”
Chaminade’s 77-72 stunner over Ralph Sampson and then No. 1-ranked Cavaliers in 1982 in Hawaii was generally considered the most remarkable upset in college basketball. But that was the regular season.
This came when it mattered the most — in the NCAA Tournament.
No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament were 135-0.
“Unbelievable — it’s really all you can say,” UMBC coach Ryan Odom said.
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.
The 74 points were the most Virginia had allowed this year. And they played teams like Duke and North Carolina. Virginia had allowed just 54.3 points per game this season, the fewest in the nation.
UMBC shot 67.9 percent from the field in the second half and held Virginia to 42 percent after intermission.
“We got thoroughly outplayed and that’s the reality of it,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said.
Lyles was the catalyst.
He diced up Virginia’s defense in the second half, getting to the hole easily and making easy layups. He also knocked down a pair of 3-pointers as UMBC built a 16-point lead.
“I always let him play,” Odom said. “I never hold him back. When he gets going like that if breeds confidence in other guys.”
The game was tied at halftime, but the Retrievers came out confident and motivated in the second half and built a double-digit lead that Virginia could never erase.
Joe Sherburne, who had 14 points, was huge early in the second half and made believers out of everyone. He scored on an and-1 drive and then knocked down a 3-pointer from the top of the key after a behind-the-back pass from KJ Maura. After Virginia made a foul shot, the shifty 5-foot-8, 140-pound Maura drove the lane for uncontested layup.
A Tony Bennett timeout couldn’t stop the bleeding, as Lyles hit two more 3’s and Sherburne hit one more to extend UMBC’s lead to 14 with about 15 minutes left.
Arkel Lamer made a 3-pointer from the corner with 3 1/2 minutes left to put UMBC up by 17, then backpedaled down the court with his tongue hanging out. You knew history was coming.
Chants of “UMBC” echoed through the arena.
“We all wanted to be in the ‘One Shining Moment’ video,” Sherburne said.
It was yet another early exit for the Cavaliers in a season that seemed to hold so much promise. This was the fourth time in the last five seasons the Cavaliers have been either the No. 1 or 2 seed, but failed to reach the Final Four under Bennett.
Bennett said the Cavaliers had a historic season and then “a historic loss. That’s life.”
Instead of trying to chip away at the lead and pound the ball inside against the smaller Retrievers, Virginia repeatedly shot 3-pointers. Virginia missed 13 of its first 14 before getting hot for a brief stretch late in the game.
“Once we got down 8 or 10 we tried to make home run plays,” Virginia’s Kyle Guy said.