Photo by Ian Feldmann.
When you look back on your life, you reflect on the good times and the bad times as an athlete. The one thing that always lingers in your mind is that season that got away.
Back in 2008, UMBC made history by making it to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament for the first time in school history. At the time, UMBC was not thought of as anything more than a STEM school with very little talent in athletics, but all that changed in the 2007-2008 season when UMBC was lead by guard Jay Greene and forward Daryl Proctor. During this campaign, the regular season seemed to be a breeze for the Retrievers as they only lost eight games throughout the whole season.
Greene and Proctor were both first team all-conference players. Proctor ranked seventh in the conference in scoring while shooting 50 percent from the field. In addition, he ranked fifth in steals per game and second in rebounding. Greene averaged 8.8 points while leading the conference in assists per game. The 07-08 Retrievers also had two second team all-conference players in guards Ray Barbosa and Brian Hodges. Barbosa led the team in scoring with 16.5 points per game.
The regular season was a piece of cake for these juggernauts as they cleaned up the competition.They proved there was no rust in the team as the Retrievers handled Stony Brook University, University of Hartford and the University of Vermont to win the tournament. Consequently, UMBC qualified for its first NCAA Tournament and their third tournament overall. The other two tournaments were NCAA DII tournaments in 1979 and 1980. The NCAA ranked UMBC as the 15 seed and had to face No. 2 seed Georgetown in the first round. This was the moment where everything was snapped back to reality as they were handily defeated 66-47.
This 2017-2018 season is one for the ages. The Retrievers have not only made school history in gaining their first tournament win, but they also made NCAA history in being the first 16 seed in the Men’s Division to beat a No. 1 seed in the Virginia Cavaliers. The Retrievers journey to this immaculate feat was not an easy one. From starting off the season 0-2, to making it to the American East championship with an eight percent chance of winning, to going down in history as the first team to beat a No. 1 seed, words cannot describe the excitement in the air.
Even head coach Ryan Odom couldn’t express how proud he was of how well these men have played. “I’m proud of these guys, all of them, I’m so happy for the three seniors especially,” said Odom.
Very few thought a college in Baltimore County would be able to pull off this feat, but dominating the No. 1 defensive team in the nation was more surprising. Coming into the tournament, UMBC was given a 1.8 percent chance of winning the game, and because of that the Retrievers walked into this game with a chip on their shoulder.
Sophomore-forward Arkel Lamar knew what the team was capable. “These are my brothers, everyone didn’t give us a chance but we knew what talent this team has and that we could do the unthinkable and that’s exactly what we did,” said Lamar. Lamar finished the game with a double-double having 12 points and 10 rebounds shooting 2-4 from behind the arc.
At halftime, the score tied at 21 apiece the crowd sat on the edge of their seats in anticipation for the players to come back out to warm up. The second half can only be summed up in one word, captivating. Everything began to click for the Retrievers as junior-forward Joe Sherburne knocked down two threes to give UMBC the lead.
“In the first half I passed up some threes so in the second half I made sure to shoot more,” said Sherburne. Laughter surrounded the room as Sherburne talked about how his teammates would grill him that he passed on shots. “There was one shot I missed,” added Sherbune, “and Arkel got the rebound and passed it back, I thought about kicking it to KJ [Maura] but I knew everyone would yell at me if I didn’t shoot it so I just let it go.” Sherburne finished with 14 points and 6 rebounds.
The star of the second half belongs to Jarius Lyles who scored 23 of his 28 points in the second half. Lyles knew he had to leave everything on the court to do his part in helping the team win this game. In the postgame press conference he said, “They did a good job on me in the first half but I just had to be patient and slow down, read the plays better and shoot the ball better in the second half and that’s what I did.” Lyles finished with an amazing stat line with 9-11 shooting and 3 for 4 from 3-point range.
Odom knew what Lyles was capable of, allowing him to play his game. “I never hold him back at all. With Jarius its all about reading plays. He has an amazing ability to score the ball … his teammates have so much confidence and when he gets going it just breeds confidence for the team.”
Defense was the key to victory as it was being preached about throughout the week. Even senior-guard KJ Maura knew what it would take to stop Virginia, saying, “We started getting stops, the first half was a low scoring game and I think that started to give us the confidence to get going and shoot the ball better.”
This team locked in defensively, holding the Cavaliers to 41 percent shooting and 18 percent from 3-point range. This is the biggest loss by a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament since 1998. The team is riding a cloud high as they move on to face No. 9 seed Kansas State on Sunday in Charlotte, NC. No matter how the season ends for UMBC, they have etched their name into history and not only put UMBC on the map, but all of Retriever Nation as well.