UMBC’s historic 20-point win over no. 1 seed University of Virginia last Friday gave the Retrievers a taste of NCAA victory. Two days and one Sports Illustrated cover later, UMBC battled Kansas State in a nail-biting, neck-and-neck second round contest. The Retrievers trailed the Wildcats by just one point for much of the game, eventually ceding to Kansas State, 43-50 (see ESPN recap).
Just after Friday’s round one victory, NCAA’s Kyle Boone suggested, “Jairus Lyles was the best player on the floor…and he likely will be again come Sunday when they take on the Wildcats.”
Lyles ‘17, sociology, M.A. ‘18, education, indeed led the Retrievers with twelve points, six rebounds and four assists. Game announcers recognized UMBC’s drive and stamina in fighting through a tough game right up to the end, scoring one final shot as the buzzer rang out.
As the game came to a close, fans in Charlotte and around the globe, shared their love for the team, and gratitude for an inspiring NCAA run.
Congratulations on a terrific season @UMBCAthletics. You made all of Baltimore proud this week.
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) March 19, 2018
It wasn’t the ending we were rooting for, but you made BMore proud! Can’t wait to host the @UMBC_MBB team at Oriole Park this summer and celebrate your historic season. 🏀 #RetrieverNation @UMBCAthletics #MarchMadness @UMBC
— Baltimore Orioles (@Orioles) March 19, 2018
How did the team buck expectations to emerge winners in the America East Conference, NCAA round one, and now in the hearts of so many new Retriever fans? Lyles told reporters, “we believed in each other.” It’s a simple answer with a complex backstory. As Erica Green wrote in the New York Times, “the U.M.B.C. Cinderella story transcends athletics, and has been decades in the making.”
UMBC was founded in 1966 as the first public university in Maryland to welcome people of all backgrounds. Since then, Green noted, UMBC has “quietly carved out an identity of its own” as a welcoming community that prizes innovation and inclusive excellence—where students support each other, but also push each other, to achieve great things.
Alumnus Kafui Dzirasa ‘01, chemical engineering, told the Times that UMBC’s “balance of athletics and academics is perhaps its most valuable asset.” The Duke University physician scientist was a champion long jumper and academic All-American as an undergraduate. Of his time at UMBC, he shared, “It was always this idea that you could do two things at once, and you could do two things with excellence.”
How did he develop that confidence? “We’re constantly saying to students, ‘You can be the best,’” President Freeman Hrabowski told the Washington Post.
— UMBC (@UMBC) March 19, 2018
“It’s no coincidence that two of our strongest players, Jairus Lyles and Joe Sherburne, earned 4.0 GPAs this fall, or that Joe was just named a First-Team Academic All-American,” UMBC Pres. Hrabowski noted in The Atlantic. From the court to the classroom, he wrote, “Our magic comes from questioning expectations, putting in the hard work, and staying focused.”
For Pres. Hrabowski and longtime UMBC fans and alumni, the university’s latest NCAA success is emblematic of the UMBC story. “Our men’s basketball team embodies our definition of grit…bringing both passion and preparation to the game,” Hrabowski wrote. “We won convincingly because we had worked hard to be ready.”
The Retrievers now head back to Baltimore, to be welcomed home with open arms by the community that has been rooting for them from day one.
After reading articles on UMBC’s mascot, chess team, academics, and community, basketball fans will no longer be asking, “Who is UMBC?” Now the question becomes, “When will UMBC bring the magic again? And where can I get tickets?”
We hope to see all of you at our brand new $85 Million Event Center in November for the season opener. Congrats @KStateMBB, good luck the rest of the way!….and for those of you in HS, you can apply right here –> https://t.co/u6jwzMWAeS
— UMBC Athletics (@UMBCAthletics) March 19, 2018
Watch Party Photo: Marlayna Demond for UMBC Magazine
Game Photos: Ian Feldmann, The Retriever