UMBC’s legacy: No. 1 can mean one and one in March Madness

Those are the five letters no NCAA Tournament No. 1 seed ever wants to see: Upset.

Thursday marks the fifth anniversary of the University of Maryland-Baltimore County — the small school few fans had heard of, let alone picked in their category — pulling off the biggest upset in college basketball history by beating the tournament seed in Virginia.

UMBC’s enduring legacy has become this: If you’re not careful, the number 1 can mean one and done.

Although there were a few close calls before 2018, the No. 1 seeds had gone 135-0 before UMBC routed Virginia 75-54 at Charlotte’s Spectrum Center. Now they are 1-147. Like the men, the women’s side of March Madness saw only one 16 to beat a 1: Harvard vs. Stanford in 1998.

On Thursday, three more No. 1 seeds — Alabama, Kansas and Houston — show up in court to avoid what the Cavaliers endured five years ago, while their respective opponents Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Howard and Northern Kentucky seek to capture this “One Shining Moment” and etch their names in history alongside the Retrievers.

Ryan Odom, the Retrievers’ coach that season, said after the game “these are the moments you dream of”. while his players celebrated in a cramped dressing room after shocking the world. KJ, the 5-foot-8, 140-pound guard, Maura and his teammates joked that there were “no more perfect supports” and that they might become the focal point of a future ESPN episode “30 for 30”.

Some players struggled to deal with the enormity of the moment, hugging long and hard.

“It felt like my soul was leaving my body, man,” UMBC guard Jourdan Grant said that day.

Odom, now head coach of Utah State, seeded No. 10 in this year’s tournament, said Wednesday it was “a memory that will last a lifetime.”

“Will a 16 ever beat a 1 again?” I have no idea,” Odom said. “We need a special group. It takes a lot of luck to have a chance of winning any game in the NCAA Tournament.

Former UMBC goaltender Joe Sherburne said it remains the best day of his life.

“You can measure my life by this: before this day and after this day,” Sherburne said Wednesday. When friends introduce him to people, the first thing they say is “Joe played for UMBC.”

Sherburne, who works as a financial adviser, remembers the day well.

As UMBC’s lead over Virginia grew to double digits in the second half, he sensed something special, something miraculous happening. He struggled to concentrate on the next play call as he sat on the bench during TV timeouts: “I felt like I was in shock.”

Can this really happen? Could a 20 1/2 point underdog really beat the nation’s No. 1 team in the NCAA Tournament?

But it happened – and suddenly everyone wanted to know his story.

Sherburne stayed at the arena until 1 a.m. to do interviews before returning to the team hotel where he was greeted by overwhelmed fans, friends and family. He and his teammates watched “Sports Center” on repeat and ate pizza, enjoying the moment.

“We were all still on adrenaline,” Sherburne said. “I couldn’t eat or drink. I can usually eat a whole Domino’s pizza on my own, but I couldn’t that night. I might have had two or three slices.

Sherburne still wishes the celebration had gone on for days longer, but UMBC lost a narrow second-round loss to Kansas State two days later.

Yet there will always be the satisfaction of accomplishing something that has never been done before. Sherburne hopes it stays that way for a while.

After the loss of the last 16 seeds at last year’s NCAA Tournament, he toasted UMBC’s legacy with a glass of whiskey.

Two years ago, he attended Game 6 of the 2016 NBA Finals where he watched former Virginia big man Mamadi Diakite win a championship ring. Diakité was one of six Virginia players on that team to play in the NBA; UMBC did not have one.

“I’m sitting in the arena that night, second row from the top, thinking, ‘You know, just a few years ago I was making this guy and his teammates cry,'” said Sherburne.

The UMBC players did not have an in-person meeting, but Sherburne said the players are keeping in touch over group texts.

Last week, Odom opened one of these texts to find players and assistant coaches reminiscing about star guard Jairus Lyles’ buzzer-beater to beat Vermont in the Eastern Conference Tournament Championship Game. of America 2018 – a dramatic victory that earned the Retrievers an automatic offer to the Big Dance.

Odom’s eyes swelled with tears as he scanned the comments and photos.

“Every team we are lucky enough to coach has a life to live,” Odom said. “This particular team has lived a great life. The joy experienced by this team was unlike any other. Certainly, the memories we will all have of this particular season will last a lifetime. That’s what all coaches and players want: they want to be part of March Madness and the upset.


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