UMBC picked an ideal time to end its 23-game losing streak to perennial league power Vermont.
The Retrievers upset the heavily favored Catamounts on their home floor on Saturday afternoon in the America East title game.
With the score tied and the final seconds melting off the clock, UMBC guard Jairus Lyles pulled up from a few feet behind the top of the key and hoisted a contested 3-pointer. Lyles’ last-second dagger lifted the Retrievers to a 65-62 victory that clinched the program’s first trip to the NCAA tournament since 2008.
“That’s a shot I’ve been working on all season, after practice and before practice,” Lyles told an ESPN sideline reporter after the game. “[Coach Ryan Odom] called a play and I waived it off and said ‘i’m going to take the last shot.”
UMBC’s return to the NCAA tournament is the culmination of the program impressive rise from laughingstock to league title contender. The Retrievers averaged 24 losses per year from 2010 to 2016, but they’ve abruptly turned things around under second-year coach Ryan Odom.
While UMBC (24-10, 12-4) finished second in the America East this season, the Retrievers were still heavy underdogs in Saturday’s title game.
Vermont (27-7, 15-1) appeared to be the type of team that could not only make the NCAA tournament but perhaps spring an upset thanks to the return of the core from last year’s 29-win team. The Catamounts had also swept the regular season series against UMBC with ease, winning by 15 at home and by 28 on the road.
This time was different though. This time UMBC went blow-for-blow with Vermont until the pressure of a win-and-in league title game appeared to get to Vermont. Lyles was the primary reason for UMBC’s success as the 6-foot-2 senior went off for 27 points including five 3-pointers.
None were bigger than his last one though, a confident shot with massive stakes.
The losing streak is over, the conference tournament title belongs to UMBC and the Retrievers are headed back to the NCAA tournament.
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