If we are going to be honest with ourselves, there was only one thing the upstart UMBC Retrievers could have done to top their historic victory over No. 1 Virginia … and they were never going to win the NCAA tournament.
They had their shining moment and then they turned back into the nice little team from Catonsville.
Miracles happen, but they don't happen every day.
The shots that fell all night Friday didn’t fall much at all Sunday against the Kansas State Wildcats, who certainly seemed willing for much of the game to let the Retrievers continue on to the Sweet Sixteen. They just didn’t have enough March magic left in them.
It was not a pretty game, as the 50-43 final score clearly illustrated. Both teams played tenacious defense. Both teams struggled all night to get into any kind of offensive rhythm. The Wildcats just found a little at the end.
Frankly, it just looked like the basketball gods looked down on UMBC and said, ‘You already used up all your mojo, so you better start making some shots on your own.”
They never figured to match their 54 percent shooting performance against Virginia, but they didn’t come close. if that wasn’t disappointing enough, there were enough missed free throws to make it a very different game.
The big question heading into it was what the Retrievers would carry forward from Friday night's stunning victory. Would they ride a wave or momentum right over the Wildcats or suffer an adrenaline deficit after the emotional overload of the previous 48 hours?
The pre-game analysts posed that very dichotomy and concluded that the first five or six minutes would tell whether UMBC would be able to pick up where they left off and make an end run to Atlanta.
Of course, this was never about X’s and O’s. When an overmatched team does the impossible, it isn’t because somebody diagramed the stardust on a white board in the locker room. The Retrievers looked pretty amped up when they took the court and it was Kansas State that did not score in the first 6:20 of the game.
The Retrievers took advantage of that early scoring drought to take an eight-point lead, but it was obvious that they were not in sync offensively. They certainly were not the same team that pumped in big shot after big shot against Virginia and, really, who could reasonably expected them to be.
They had already taken the ride of their lives, and it did seem like they were running on fumes in the second half.
The disappointment will linger for a short while, but this doesn’t change anything. UMBC did something on Friday night that may not be repeated in our lifetime. The Retrievers own an accomplishment that no one can ever take away from them. They can return home to a heroes’ welcome and it will be richly deserved.
They made Maryland proud. Can’t ask for much more than that.