Ticket Punched: UMBC heads to NCAA tournament after America East championship victory

With less than a second left on the clock, the Retrievers’ star guard Jairus Lyles made a stunning three-point shot, dethroning the University of Vermont in an edge-of-your-seat America East Championship match that catapulted UMBC to its first NCAA tournament berth in a decade. The moment, NCAA shared, was “March Madness at its finest!”

The 65-62 win on Saturday, March 10, was a major upset for the Catamounts, and thrilled Retriever Nation fans tuning in worldwide. Coming into the America East men’s basketball title game, the University of Vermont (27-6) was heavily favored over UMBC. The number one seed had won 23 consecutive games against the Retrievers (then 23-10), including a victory that ended UMBC’s undefeated streak at home.

But after one of the most storied seasons in recent history, the determined UMBC men’s basketball team saw a win as their only option. Traveling nine hours by bus, the Retrievers arrived at Roy L. Patrick Gymnasium in Burlington, Vermont ready to achieve the goal they’d been building up to all season.

Jairus Lyles, ahead of the championship game. Photo courtesy of America East.

“Words can’t describe the surreal feeling an accomplishment like this evokes,” said UMBC Athletic Director Tim Hall. “Obviously, Coach Odom is first class—in all facets—and his student-athletes bought in from day one. The tremendous support from university leadership, the campus, and our larger community was palpable. I am confident that this signature win and participation in the NCAA tournament will be a springboard for even greater success.”

Lyles ‘17, sociology, M.A. ‘18, education, led the Retrievers with 27 points.

Jairus Lyles at the America East championship game. Photo courtesy of America East.

Standout players like Lyles, as well as K.J. Maura ‘18, sociology, consistently showed why UMBC is a force to be reckoned with this season. Lyles is the first player in school history to rack up two 500-point seasons and is fifth on UMBC’s all-time scoring list. Maura was named America East Defensive Player of the Year and ranked 13th in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio. This dynamic duo ranked first and second in steals per game in the America East and Lyles was the second leading scorer in the conference.

“I’m so proud of these guys,” head coach Ryan Odom shared just after the team’s championship victory. “From the day that I stepped on campus, they have tried to win every day. You have to earn the right to win and these kids did that. They were eager to compete and win. And that’s what you saw today.”

UMBC men’s basketball celebrates after championship victory. Photo courtesy of America East.

Under Odom’s leadership, the Retrievers have now achieved two consecutive 20-win seasons, a first in 32 years of NCAA Division I play. Odom avoided the sophomore slump in his second year as coach, learning from last year and strengthening the team’s defense for the 2017-18 season. With this victory, Odom tied UMBC’s program record of 24 victories in a single season.

With the title secured, the stakes only get higher for the Retrievers. This championship win ensures that UMBC will gain automatic berth the NCAA tournament.

“Congratulations to Ryan and the team,” shared America East Commissioner Amy Huchthausen. “It has been a remarkable two-year turnaround. We wish them the best of luck representing America East in the NCAA Tournament.”

Coach Ryan Odom celebrates the Retriever victory. Photo courtesy of America East.

On March 11, Selection Sunday revealed UMBC would be taking on top-seeded University of Virginia in the first round of NCAA championships. The Retrievers will travel to the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, NC to showdown against the Cavaliers at 9:20 p.m. on Friday, March 16.

In the meantime, see coverage of UMBC’s America East Championship victory in the Baltimore Sun and on NCAA.com.

Header photo courtesy of America East.