Tim Murray

March Madness Revisited: No. 16 seed UMBC makes history with win over No. 1 Virginia

March Madness Revisited: No. 16 seed UMBC makes history with win over No. 1 Virginia

History was not on UMBC’s side as it entered its showdown against top seeded Virginia on March 16, 2018 looking to become the first 16-seed to knock off a number one seed in NCAA Tournament history. 

“All we had talked about leading up to that game was numbers really don’t matter,” UMBC head coach Ryan Odom said on NBC Sports Radio. “It just takes one night.”

But that historic evening when everything went right in a stunning 74-54 win over the Cavaliers, one of the great upsets in sports ever, almost did not happen.

The University of Maryland-Baltimore County, like most mid-major basketball programs, needed to win its conference tournament to make the NCAA Tournament. UMBC went 12-4 in America East play but lost both of its games against Vermont. The Catamounts finished 15-1 in conference play, cruising past UMBC in each of its regular season meetings and earned the right to host the America East championship game. 

Tied at 62, Silver Spring native and DeMatha Catholic alum Jairus Lyles buried a 3-pointer with less than a second to play to send UMBC dancing for the first time in a decade. 

Prior to that victory, the Retrievers had lost 23 straight games against Vermont.  

Now the stage was set. UMBC was the No. 16 seed in the East Region and would face 31-2 Virginia. The Cavaliers won the ACC regular season and tournament championship in 2018. Virginia was also voted No. 1 in the final five weeks of the Associated Press Top 25 poll. This was a total mismatch on paper.  

But after one half of basketball on a Friday night in Raleigh, N.C., UMBC and Virginia were tied at 21. This didn’t look like much of a mismatch anymore.  

“The way we felt about [the game] at halftime was we’re 20 minutes away from history,” Odom said. “It would be a shame if we got too excited or too far away from the game plan.” 

Far from it. The Retrievers opened the second half with a 17-3 run that left everyone in the building stunned and never looked back. UMBC finished the evening with 53 second half points. 

The Cavaliers had allowed 53.4 points per game in 2017-18, tops in the nation. And 15 of Virginia’s previous 33 opponents scored less than 53 points in a game. It was a defensive powerhouse, but that all fell apart against the Retrievers those final 20 minutes as the possibility of an upset drew closer.  

“Both teams really struggled scoring in that first half and that gave us, ironically, some confidence going into the second half,” Odom recalled. “We felt like at that point we could play with them. If we could start hitting some of the shots we were getting in the first half, that we would have a legitimate shot to stay in the game. Obviously it turned out a little different than that and we did more than just hang in.”

How did this happen? Was there a perfect locker room speech? Nope. 

“We approached it the same way we would have any other game,” Odom said. “That particular team was very experienced in a lot of ways.” 

The Retrievers did have an ingredient that is common in many upsets in the NCAA Tournament: Quality guard play. It’s almost impossible to pull off an upset of that magnitude without it.  

“You know how it is, guards win games in college basketball,” Odom said. “We had three really good ones that were able to outplay really good players, guys that went on the next year to win the national championship.” 

UMBC’s backcourt of Lyles, K.J. Maura, and Jourdan Grant combined for 46 points. Lyles led all scorers with 28 points on 9-of-11 shooting from the field. 

Following the jubilation of making history, UMBC needed to turn its attention to Kansas State. 

Less than 48 hours after shooting 67.9% from the field in the second half against the top-ranked defensive team in the nation, the Retrievers scored just 43 points in 40 minutes and went 14-of-47 from the floor. UMBC still trailed the Wildcats by just three points with under 90 seconds to play before ultimately falling 50-43. 

“We’re all proud about the Virginia game but we think more about the Kansas State than [the Virginia Game],” Odom said. “Would I have like some more shots to go in? Absolutely. It would have been special to make it to the Sweet 16. But certainly...no regrets.”

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March Madness Revisited: When George Washington made it back to the NCAA Tournament

March Madness Revisited: When George Washington made it back to the NCAA Tournament


As March winds down without its usual flurry of March Madness moments, NBC Sports Washington takes a look back at the smaller DMV schools and their most recent NCAA Tournament appearances.  

Despite some recent struggles, confidence was high in Foggy Bottom for the George Washington basketball program entering the 2013-14 season. 

“I thought we could be good,” former GW head coach Mike Lonergan told NBC Sports Washington. “I thought we could win 20 games and have a chance to make the NCAA Tournament.”

The Colonials had not been to the tournament since 2007 and finished under .500 the first two years after Lonergan arrived from Vermont. However, the Bowie, Md. native, a former head coach at Catholic and assistant at Maryland under Gary Williams, was bullish thanks to the addition of Indiana graduate transfer Maurice Creek. 

“I knew we needed someone like him,” Lonergan said. “I knew if he could play at even 80% that he would give us the scoring we needed.”

Creek averaged 16.4 points per game as a freshman at Indiana before numerous leg injuries derailed his time in Bloomington. The former Hoosier led the Colonials in scoring (14.1 ppg) that season. 

The moment of arrival for George Washington occurred Thanksgiving weekend in Anaheim. In the third place game of the Wooden Classic, the Colonials faced 20th-ranked Creighton. George Washington beat the Blue Jays, 60-53, and held eventual consensus first-team All-America Doug McDermott to a season-low seven points. 

“That’s when I knew we were pretty good because Creighton was fabulous,” Lonergan said. 

The Colonials were the only team that season to hold McDermott under double digits. That was the turning point in their season.  

After returning from California, the Colonials defeated Rutgers, Maryland, and Georgia even before beginning Atlantic 10 play. Creek buried a game-winning shot at the buzzer to defeat Maryland in the BB&T Classic, 77-75. 

“Everything we did started in the summer time,” Creek told NBC Sports Washington. “We believed in each other.”

George Washington finished the regular season with a 24-8 record and an 11-5 mark in conference play. On Selection Sunday, the Colonials emerged as the No. 9 seed in the East Region. Lonergan will never forget that feeling of that day. 

“It was definitely exciting,” Lonergan said. “When I got the job, I thought it was a five-year deal before we got really good. So we were ahead of schedule.”

George Washington headed to Raleigh, N.C. to play Memphis. Luck was not on the Colonials side that evening. In addition to second-leading scorer Kethan Savage being sidelined due to an injury, Creek needed stitches above his eye early in the game. 

Creek finished just 2-for-13 from the field. Senior Isaiah Armwood finished with a season-high 21 points but was called for his fourth foul with 12:02 to play in the second half. 

"It definitely changed my defense, because when I'm on defense, I'm usually active. I couldn't foul," Armwood said. 

The Colonials still had multiple chances to tie the game in the final minute down by three but came up short and ultimately lost to the Tigers, 71-66. 

“It was disappointing because we could really score and we only put up 66 [points] that game,” Lonergan recalled. 

Despite the disappointing loss, George Washington basketball looked healthy once again following a successful season. The Colonials won a school-record 28 games and the NIT two years later, but they are still searching for a return trip to the tournament with a rebuilding plan in place under new coach Jamion Christian. 

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March Madness Revisited: When 16-seed Mount St. Mary's pushed 1-seed Villanova

March Madness Revisited: When 16-seed Mount St. Mary's pushed 1-seed Villanova

As March winds down without its usual flurry of March Madness moments, NBC Sports Washington takes a look back at some smaller DMV schools who made a big impact during their most recent NCAA Tournament appearances.  

A season removed from winning the national championship in 2016, Villanova found itself trailing by a point with less than five seconds to play in the first half of the first round of the NCAA Tournament. 

At the time, no No. 16 seed had ever beaten a No. 1 seed. That would come a year later. The Wildcats’ opponent that March evening in Buffalo, N.Y.? Mount St. Mary’s.

The little school from Emmitsburg, Md. had been to the Big Dance before. Legendary coach Jim Phelan, who ran the program for 49 years and is in the College Basketball Hall of Fame, shepherded the Mountaineers from Division II to Division I in the early 1990s. They won the Northeast Conference tournament in 1995 and 1999 to reach the tournament and made it twice more in 2008 and 2014 even after Phelan retired. 

But it was its fifth trip the NCAA Tournament, under current George Washington coach Jamion Christian, where The Mount put a scare into the defending champs and heralded what UMBC would do a year later against No. 1 seed Virginia.     

The road to becoming Northeast Conference champions did not get off to an easy start. The Mountaineers opened the 2016-17 campaign with nine straight road games. But that was by design.  

“I knew when we built that schedule we had a great team,” Christian told NBC Sports Washington. 

Entering a Dec. 22 showdown with Coppin State, the Mountaineers were 1-11. Mount St. Mary’s won its final non-conference game with ease, 87-49, and went 14-4 in NEC play en route to claiming the conference’s regular season championship. 

“I bet on their ability to rally around one another when it got tough and I bet on their ability to be great,” Christian said. “We got it spot on that year.”

Christian had played four years for Phelan and his successor, Milan Brown, from 2000-2004. But a three-year starter and captain, his teams at The Mount never reached the NCAAs. He did take them there as head coach in 2014, a 71-64 loss to Albany in a First Four game in Dayton.  

But 2016-17 was different. Until that season, Mount St. Mary’s had never won the NEC regular season title and tournament in the same year. The Mount defeated St. Francis (Pa), 71-61, at home at Knott Arena to earn the school’s fifth trip to the tournament. 

On Selection Sunday, the Mountaineers learned that they would be headed to Dayton again for the second time in four years as part of the First Four. This time they were a little offended, not just happy to be going at all. 

“We didn’t feel like we should have been in Dayton,” Christian said. “We felt like we should have been a 15 - or even a 14 seed with our numbers that year. And we went into that game bringing back the underdog mentality that we wanted to prove and show the world how good of a team we had.”

The 2014 loss to Albany had prepared Christian’s group for what was to come in 2017. They weren’t worried about escaping Dayton this time around. 

“It was a perfect scenario for us with all of that,” Christian said. “We had played in Dayton before. We had made some mistakes playing in Dayton the first time just because you don’t know.”

Led by a 23-point performance from Junior Robinson, the Mountaineers defeated New Orleans, 67-66, in Dayton. 

Next up? Villanova less than 48 hours later in Buffalo. Christian said he learned a lot from a 90-59 loss to the Wildcats in 2013 and knew exactly what his game plan was going to be. 

“The number one thing was we wanted to be aggressive. We wanted to be in attack mode,” Christian said. 

Top seeded teams were 130-0 against No. 16 seeds entering that game. But following an Elijah Long 3-pointer, the Mount led Villanova 10-2 with 13:27 to play in the first half. The Mountaineers led the majority of that first half and owned a 29-28 lead in the closing seconds of the half before a Jalen Brunson backdoor layup put Villanova in front heading into the locker room.

“When we got to the half, I remember walking in and the guys were breathing really hard and I said, ‘Oh boy,’” Christian recounted. “It was one of those moments where you want to try to continue to give them confidence, but you’re also letting them take a moment to take a deep breath so they can play to their full potential.”

Villanova eventually pulled away in the second half and won 76-56. But the game did leave Wildcats head coach Jay Wright impressed. For a large part of that game, The Mount made Wright and the Wildcats uncomfortable. 

“It’s in the back of your mind,” Wright said after the game. “It hits you for a second. ‘This could be one of those nights.’ You’ve got to knock it out and concentrate on the next play. But I’d be lying if I said it didn’t come up.”

It didn’t end quite the way they wanted it to. The really big upset would have to wait until the following season when UMBC stunned Virginia 74-54. But after its 1-11 start, Mount St. Mary’s won 20 games in a season for the first time in two decades and showed everyone the blue print for how a 16 could finally beat a 1. 

“The best don’t look at winning and losing as a finale, they look how hard you compete,” Christian said. “And I felt [Villanova] had a great level of respect for how hard our team competed that day.”

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