Exactly a year after the UMBC men’s basketball team shocked the sport with an NCAA tournament upset of Virginia, the Retrievers fell one step short of a return trip to the Big Dance.
Vermont, the top seed in the America East tournament, routed third-seeded UMBC, 66-49, in Burlington on Saturday, ending a three-game losing streak to the conference’s reigning champion.
In last year’s America East final, the Retrievers stunned the Catamounts at Patrick Gym, their home court, with a go-ahead, last-second 3-pointer by Jairus Lyles. The win was UMBC’s first over Vermont after losing 23 straight games in the series and sent the program to its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2008.
On March 16, 2018, the Retrievers became the first No. 16 seed in men’s tournament history to beat a No. 1 seed, pulling away from Virginia for a 74-54 win.
Eight days in March. That was all it took for UMBC to carry college basketball fans on one of the most improbable and charming rides in the recent history of the sport. A year later, here’s that story in the words of the players, coaches and administrators who pulled it off.
Vermont (27-6) lost just two regular-season games in conference play this year, both to UMBC (21-13). America East Player of the Year Anthony Lamb missed the first defeat and was held to 5-for-14 shooting in the second, but he was the difference maker Saturday.
The junior finished with a game-high 28 points on 8-for-16 shooting, including a big first half that helped give the Catamounts a 28-20 halftime lead. Sophomore Stef Smith finished with 17 points.
“This year the script was flipped after a year ago,” UMBC coach Ryan Odom told reporters after the game. “Hats off to Vermont today. Our offense today left a lot to be desired — give them credit for a lot of that. Lamb had a dynamite game. He's tremendous.”
UMBC's core of upperclassmen struggled throughout the loss. Senior Joe Sherburne and juniors Arkel Lamar and K.J. Jackson combined for 31 points on 10-for-33 shooting. The Retrievers held Vermont to 41.2 percent shooting but fared even worse from the field, finishing at 34.1 percent.
It was the seventh conference title overall and second in three years for the Catamounts.
“I'm impressed how well we grew over the season and today was a full team effort,” Vermont coach John Becker told reporters. “These games are surreal because of the crowd and noise. We were tougher this year because of that game. We had a lot of young guys, so credit our new leadership.”