CHARLOTTE — The magic that had powered UMBC to round two of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament hung in the balance Sunday night as Kansas State’s Barry Brown rang a jumper strong and into the palpable atmosphere of Uptown Charlotte’s Spectrum Center. University of Maryland-Baltimore County, the 16-seed that slayed No. 1 Virginia not even 48 hours prior, tussled with another high-major opponent in Kansas State, trailing by just four points with three minutes left in regulation.
But UMBC’s missed opportunities started to pile, and as Brown’s jumper hung in the air, his teammate Xavier Sneed then pummeled the Cinderella team and all its magic. Sneed flushed a thunderous put-back slam over UMBC’s Joe Sherburne to give the Wildcats a six-point lead and momentum to close the deal.
On a night where shots simply didn’t drop and turnovers were too great to overcome, UMBC’s magical NCAA tournament run ended Sunday night in the 50-43 loss to Kansas State.
“This loss can’t take away what these kids have been able to accomplish,” said UMBC coach Ryan Odom, who took over the program after a four-win season just three years ago. “Just to be here is a blessing for sure.”
When Odom got back to the dressing room, as his players packed up their gold uniforms that now live in March Madness lore, he left one word on the whiteboard: “Proud.”
“[They] captured our country and beyond,” Odom said.
For the game, UMBC (25-11) shot 29.8 percent (14-for-47) overall, 27.3 percent from deep (6-for-22) and 50 percent at the free throw line (9-for-18). On Friday, the Retrievers connected on 12 of 24 attempts from long range and entered Sunday night hitting 38.5 percent of shots from 3-point range, good enough for 36th nationally. UMBC also turned the ball over 17 times Sunday — 25.7 percent of possessions, its highest turnover rate of the season.
“I couldn’t even tell you the last time we had 17 turnovers in a game,” Odom said. “So, I think it was there. Certainly the free-throw shooting was not what it needed to be.”
Even through noticeable fatigue from an exhilarating but draining past two days and a first half that featured just seven field goals, UMBC trailed 25-20 at halftime. The Retrievers held Kansas State to just 37.5 percent shooting (9-for-24) in the first half, largely thanks to DeMatha Catholic alum Jairus Lyles and America East Defensive Player of the Year KJ Maura.
Lyles, who poured in 28 points on 11 shots in the historic win over No. 1 Virginia on Friday, struggled to find scoring space all night, though. He finished with 12 points on 4-for-15 shooting. He also added six rebounds, four assists and four steals. His 71 offensive rating by KenPom.com marked the third-lowest in a single game this season.
“I think they did a good job of speeding us up,” Lyles said. “We made history the other night, but we wanted to win tonight. … We didn’t execute enough.”
At the outset, UMBC executed, taking a 7-0 lead after Lyles finished a layup in the half court. It took Kansas State six minutes, 20 seconds to score when Makol Mawien finished a layup off an inbounds play. But 14 seconds later, Jordan Grant put UMBC up 10-2 with a 3-pointer and gave the impression his team was here for more. Eight points ended up being UMBC’s largest lead of the night, as a four-minute, 16-second scoring drought gave Kansas State the momentum it needed.
A 13-4 Wildcats run put them ahead 15-14 at the 8:29 mark and never trailed again. UMBC did, however, draw within one-point on multiple occasions: sophomore forward Max Curran drilled a 3-pointer at the top of the key to make it 32-31 with 14:25 to go. Maura made two of three free throws to bring it to 34-33 with 11:07 left and Lyles sank a deep 3-ball to make it 38-37 with 6:01 remaining. But right when UMBC appeared it would channel more magic, Kansas State answered.
The magic ran dry and gone went the team that became the first No. 16 in NCAA tournament history to defeat a No. 1 seed. But it didn’t vanquish without a message.
“Just believe in yourself,” Odom said. “I think that’s the first thing. People will tell you in life you can’t do something and if you believe them, then you won’t. These kids never wavered. They believed they could do this and they got it done. … The rest is history.”