Charlotte, North Carolina
Alumni, students, and fans converged outside of the Hilton in Charlotte, to cheer on the Retrievers as they boarded their bus to head to the Spectrum Center. Just like Friday, the band played the “UMBC Fight Song” as the players processed out of the hotel, and onto their bus. With determined looks on their face, and brand new Curry 5 shoe boxes in their hands, they headed out to continue their run into the history books.
Coming off a historic victory over No. 1 Virginia, the Retrievers were looking to continue their Cinderella run in the tournament, as they were set to take on the 9-seed Kansas State Wildcats for an opportunity to advance to the Sweet 16 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Entering the arena Sunday evening, there were a slew of disappointed North Carolina fans despairing about their halftime deficit to Texas A&M. The Aggies of TAMU would eventually go on to shock the 2-seeded Tar Heels, but that did not deter fans. Many of the fans in North Carolina baby blue gear stuck around to watch the Retrievers embark on history. The sea of blue turned out to bleed Retriever gold for the night, as they stood behind UMBC in their conquest.
The first half started tremendously for the Retrievers. Graduate-guard Jairus Lyles made two layups, and sophomore-forward Arkel Lamar hit a 3-point shot to give UMBC an early 7-0 lead. KSU came back with a layup of their own, but UMBC answered right back as senior-guard and media and communications major Jourdan Grant hit a 3-point shot to give the Retrievers an 8-point lead.
KSU answered with a mini 4-0 run, before sophomore-forward Max Curran answered with an easy lay-in. At this point, Coach Ryan Odom began to rest his star-guards Lyles and senior-guard KJ Maura alternatively, which opened a window for the Wildcats to begin a 19-6 run over the last 11 minutes of the half. The Retrievers struggled to make shots, but blocks by Lamar and steals from junior-forward Joe Sherburne, and Maura kept UMBC in the game. The Retrievers only made 7 field goals in the half, but used free-throws to their advantage to go into a halftime with only a 25-20 deficit.
But the Retrievers did not have enough steam to continue their miraculous story in the second half. The Retrievers opened the half with a much better shooting effort, with Maura shooting back-to-back 3-point shots to bring the Retrievers within 2 points.
The defense, and whit of the Retrievers were put on display as Grant and Maura terrorized whoever possessed the ball, each coming up with steals. Maura and Sherburne added to the spectacular play, each taking charges to give the Retrievers possession. But, they could not capitalize on their exemplary defense, as each team went scoreless for more than three and a half minutes.
There was not much action in the closing minutes, as Lyles uncharacteristically missed 3 free throws in the closing minutes. Lyles brought the Retrievers within 3 points with two minutes left in the game after driving to the lane and making a layup. But with a chance to bring the Wildcats into reach, Lyles missed a 3-point shot with 48.1 seconds, and Kansas took advantage. They scored 4 straight points, to secure the win. As time expired, junior-guard Isiah Rodgers got his first career rebound, and points.
”This loss does not take away what these kids have been able to accomplish,” said coach Odom after the game. “Just to be here is a blessing for sure. I wrote one word on the board after the game about how I feel about them, just ‘proud.'”
“We had a great season, we made history the other night,” said Lyles. “We wanted to win tonight, we felt like we had a good chance of winning but unfortunately we lost. We understand what we did [Friday], we understand what we did this season. We did the unexpected and we’re just proud of each other for that.”
The Retrievers walked to the UMBC crowd after the game, waved at the fans and thanked them for their support. Tears filled the arena, as the careers of seniors Maura, Lyles, and Grant came to an end. But, they did not end in vain. They made history, and led this team all season long, and will be remembered by the Retriever family forever.