The ultimate underdogs: UMBC Retrievers shock Virginia

March 23, 2018

One minute into arguably the least anticipated game in the South Region of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship, CBS sports analyst Seth Davis articulated the lack of enthusiasm of the vast majority of the college basketball-watching population in a single tweet:

“Virginia. Sharpie.”

Writing off the possibility of an unprecedented upset of the unanimous Associated Press top-ranked team, the Virginia Cavaliers, Davis implied the number one overall seed’s game against 16th-seeded University of Maryland Baltimore County was over before it had truly begun. After all, prior to tip-off, 16 seeds have no wins and 135 losses against number one seeds number in the history of the tournament.

Throughout the first half, however, both teams exchanged blows, to the shock of many. After all, only 15 1-16 matchups (11.1 percent) in the NCAA tournament have been decided by fewer than ten points, according to Surely, the Virginia team, which had won 23 of their past 24 games (with their sole loss coming in a one-point overtime loss to in-state rivals Virginia Tech), would not allow a UMBC squad, who was less than two-months removed from an 83-39 thrashing at the hands of the University of Albany, triumph.

When halftime rolled around, the game was deadlocked at 21 points apiece. For Virginia, a team that had averaged 67.1 points per game playing against some of the nation’s toughest competition (with the sixth highest strength of schedule in the country), this must have been anxiety-enducing. In the other locker room, however, a sense of belief that had been no more than a thought was slowly but surely coming to fruition.

Running out of the halftime break while Virginia walked, UMBC “used a 17-3 flurry to move in front 38-24,” attacking the now heavily struggling Cavalier defense by “getting into the lane for layups [and] passing the ball out for open looks from three-point range … in a scintillating stretch of scoring prowess” led by senior guard Jairus Lyles, said The Washington Post.

With 8:32 remaining on the scoreboard that many who were just tuning into the game might assume was broken, the UMBC Retrievers led 50-34, already more than doubling their first half point total about midway through the second half. Relentless and fearless, the underdogs continued to dominate the offensive and defensive glass, with Virginia being outbounded 33-22, proving Mark Twain’s words that, in the end, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”

Following a three-pointer by freshman forward Arkel Lamar with 3:35 remaining in the game and a UMBC lead that had been stretched to seventeen points, the reality of the situation finally began to set in. With the crowd cheering in anticipation, the Retrievers were on the verge of making history.

Finally, to the delight of some and the surprise of even more, history was sealed. On the back of Lyles, who had scored 23 of his 28 points in the second half, David had slain Goliath. The University of Maryland Baltimore County Retrievers had defeated the top-seeded Virginia Cavaliers by a score of 74 to 54.

Throughout the regular season, the “Cavaliers’ much-ballyhooed defense had surrendered only 53 points per game,” according to ESPN. But on Friday night, what ESPN called “arguably the weakest 16 [seed] in recent memory” put up 53 points in the second half alone against Virginia.

After all, the NCAA Division I basketball tournament is called “March Madness” for a reason, and premature predictions shouldn’t be written in Sharpie.

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