Photo by Ian Feldmann.
Two buses left the Stadium Lot for UMBC Friday morning, bringing students down to Charlotte, NC and the Spectrum Center, where UMBC would play No. 1 overall seed University of Virginia in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. The trip was a long one, more than 8 hours in the bus with traffic, but it would all be worth it to get to see the Retrievers on the big stage.
When the buses arrived in Charlotte, students got off the bus, and went to the team reception and send off at the team hotel. Head coach Ryan Odom addressed the crowd, thanking everyone for coming. Alumni, parents, faculty, staff and current students all cheered him on, proud of what the Retrievers had accomplished.
Class of 2010 alumnus Glen Fortner was excited for the Retrievers to make it to this point, stating, “I was very proud of the team, when I went to school here I remember taking classes with the basketball team and I know that they’re intelligent college students in addition to amazing athletes. Having my school in March Madness is so exciting.”
Just a few hours before tip off, the hotel was lined with fans in black and gold, waving pompoms and cheering, as the team made their way to the bus. The Down and Dirty Dawg Band played the UMBC Fight Song and fans chanted along. The team did not break their mentality, as they barely acknowledged the crowd around them, staying in the zone for the task at hand.
The spirit bus arrived at the arena, and the band unloaded their gear off the bus and the cheer and dance teams got prepared, just waiting for UMBC to take the court. The game before UMBC was Creighton vs Kansas State, and as the Creighton cheerleaders left the court in tears after a tough loss, the band and cheer teams took their places. Taking the court, the Retrievers just had to look up and realize they were not in Baltimore anymore. The new UMBC Event Center, which holds 5,000 fans (although it has never been fully sold out for a men’s basketball game), was nothing in comparison to the Spectrum Center, which holds 20,200 fans.
The atmosphere was that of an away game, with the arena being three-quarters Virginia fans. UMBC students had a section in the upper decks, and parents and alumni were sitting down directly across from the Retrievers bench. Other than UMBC and UVA fans, there were those who just loved college basketball, along with leftover Creighton and Kansas State fans, wanting to watch the best team in the nation play a game.
UMBC fans cheered their team on, with the cheer and dance team constantly cheering on the Retrievers and the band leading chants. When the first UMBC bucket went in the fans cheered wildly for these were the teams first points in the NCAA tournament since 2008. When UVA scored, the whole arena shook, as their fans cheered their team on. During timeouts, the UVA band and cheerleaders would play music and cheer on their team, coming on the court during the first media timeout to rally their fans to victory. Later, when the second media timeout happened, the UMBC Cheer and Dance teams took the court to bring spirit to the Spectrum Center, while the band played the UMBC fight song, and rocked the crowd.
As the game continued, it felt like the arena was half UVA, and half UMBC fans. Creighton and Kansas State fans became UMBC fans, wanting to cheer on the Maryland team as they worked hard against a top defensive team like Virginia. UMBC fought hard, being tied with the Cavaliers at halftime. The game was a low-scoring defensive struggle, and a game most did not watch on TV at first, but when the number one team in the nation is tied at halftime to a 16 seed, people start to pay attention.
Halftime also brought with it the UMBC cheer and dance team to the court, showing the nation what they could do. Fans cheered them on, shouting for UMBC and getting excited to see what would happen in the second half. Most believed that UVA would win out, because that is what always happens for 1 seeds vs 16 seeds.
During a timeout early in the second half, the Down and Dirty Dawg Band and the UVA band battled it out, each playing songs for the crowd, with the fans voting for the winner. When the announcer asked the fans who won, UVA got some cheers, but the arena shook with applause and cheers for the Down and Dirty Dawg Band, crowning them victorious. It would not be the only UMBC victory over UVA on that night.
The nation looked on in awe as the Retrievers worked hard down the stretch, holding strong on defense, and scoring seemingly at will on offense. Fans were not sure what to make of what was happening, as UMBC went up by double digits, controlling the game from the instant the second half began. The cheers got louder with every field goal the Retrievers made, with Cavaliers fans trying to cheer their team back into the game, but it was already too late. Time began to tick down, and the fans watched as history was being made. No 16 seed has ever beaten a 1 seed since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. 1 seeds were 135-0 vs 16 seeds all time, and most believed that record would always stand undefeated. The Retrievers were the ones to change history, with signs on campus in Catonsville saying “135-1, we are the 1.”
After the game, fans cheered and were so proud of their school and what they accomplished. Recent alumnus Daniel Wooddell was so excited, saying “It was a once in a lifetime experience. All of the neutral fans in our section were cheering us on and congratulating us and it was pandemonium every time we sank a field goal. The win was amazing and in the moment, I was just so happy for the guys on the court.” Elation was everywhere, no matter where UMBC fans went, people were congratulating them and giving them high fives. “It still hasn’t sunk in that we had witnessed UMBC produce the greatest upset in NCAA basketball history,” Wooddell said.
History was made that Friday night, something no one will forget in their lifetime. UMBC students and alumni will always be proud of their team for what they did, and fans will always remember where they were when the first ever 16 seed beat a 1 seed.
UMBC will face Kansas State in the Round of 32 for a shot to play the University of Kentucky in the Sweet 16 later in the week. The game is March 18, with tipoff slated for 7:45.