CHARLOTTE — Virginia was on the wrong end of the most improbable upset in men’s college basketball history Friday night, falling to Maryland Baltimore County, 74-54, to become the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 in the NCAA tournament.
The stunning result unfolded at Spectrum Center in the round of 64 with the Cavaliers, the top overall seed in the NCAA tournament, offering little resistance in the second half against a mid-major program making just its second NCAA tournament appearance.
By the time Arkel Lamar made a three-pointer with 3:35 remaining, UMBC led, 61-44, and had the crowd cheering wildly in anticipation of the Retrievers completing a remarkable feat.
UMBC (25-10) followed through, making 12 of 24 three-pointers and handling the Cavaliers’ vaunted pack line defense with 50 percent shooting overall. Virginia, meanwhile, went 4 for 22 from three-point range and had just four assists, a shockingly low number for a club that prides itself on sharing the basketball.
No. 16 seeds are now 1-135 in the history of the NCAA tournament.
Graduate guard Jairus Lyles, a former DeMatha standout, led the Retrievers with a game-high 28 points, 23 of those coming in the second half in which UMBC never trailed. Junior guard Joe Sherburne added 12 points and six rebounds for the school with an enrollment roughly half the size of Virginia and with an athletic budget that’s a fraction of its ACC opponent.
Thus abruptly ends a season for Virginia (31-3) that included ACC regular season and tournament titles and realistic expectations of the school’s first NCAA championship.
The Cavaliers were led by sophomore guard Kyle Guy’s 15 points.
The Cavaliers had their season end prematurely as a No. 1 seed for the third time under Coach Tony Bennett, who had been voted ACC coach of the year. They lost as a No. 1 seed in 2016 in the regional finals, blowing a 12-point halftime lead to Syracuse, and in the round of 16 in 2014 to Michigan State.
With the score tied at halftime, the Retrievers scored used a 17-3 flurry to move in front, 35-24. Sherburne, a junior guard, made three three-pointers in that time. UMBC stretched the margin to 41-27 with 14:57 to play on three-pointer by Lyles.
While Virginia continuing to struggle mightily on offense, the Retrievers kept attacking, either getting into the lane for layups or passing the ball out for open looks from three-point range.
In a scintillating stretch of scoring prowess, Lyles made three free throws, a three-pointer, back-to-back layups and a contested floater in the lane with the shot clock about to expire all in a row. Point guard K.J. Maura followed with a three-pointer for a 50-34 lead with 8:32 left in the game.
For UMBC, simply reaching the NCAA tournament represented just how far the program has progressed under second-year coach Ryan Odom. The Retrievers have won 46 games since his arrival at the Catonsville, Md., school after winning just 41 games combined over the previous seven seasons before his hiring.
Facing Virginia proved somewhat bittersweet for Odom, he indicated earlier this week, given his father’s ties to the Cavaliers. Dave Odom was an assistant on then-Virginia men’s basketball coach Terry Holland’s staff from 1982 through ’89, and Ryan served as a ballboy while growing up in Charlottesville, a short walk from University Hall.
Still, the experience of playing in the NCAA tournament has provided national exposure for UMBC unlike anything previous, according to university officials.
As the only representative from the state of Maryland participating in the NCAA tournament, UMBC secured its first berth since 2008 by beating Vermont, 65-62, on a three-pointer at the buzzer by Lyles in the America East championship game last week in Burlington, Vt.
The Cavaliers had some improbable moments of their own this season on the way to a record-setting run through the ACC in which they became the first school to win 17 games in the conference and to go 9-0 on the road.
The most dramatic of those road wins came against Louisville, 67-66, on March 1 when De’Andre Hunter banked in a three-pointer at the buzzer, completing a comeback in which Virginia scored five points in a less than a second.
But Hunter sat by himself on a folding chair watching a pregame layup line wearing blue sweats and a brace on his broken left wrist that him out for the rest of the season. The ACC sixth man of the year was left to be a cheerleader on Saturday after a hard fall in last week’s conference tournament, becoming the first player for the Cavaliers this season to miss a game because of injury.
Virginia certainly could have used the most versatile member of its roster in the first half against the Retrievers, who kept it close throughout with just enough stops on defense and timely three-point shooting.
With the Cavaliers threatening to open a double-digit lead, UMBC made three consecutive shots from beyond the arc for a 19-16 lead with 3:10 left until intermission.
The score was tied at 21 going into the locker room, with Virginia scoring its fewest points in a first half this season.