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136th Time's The Charm

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IN THE EPITOME OF MARCH MADNESS, NO. 16 SEED UMBC TOPPLED THE NATION'S NO. 1 TEAM

IT WAS bound to happen eventually, sure. But like this? In the 136th matchup of a No. 16 seed against a No. 1 in the NCAA tournament, no one could have forecast that the University of Maryland Baltimore County would do what no underdog had ever done by not just toppling the ACC champions but obliterating them. Virginia's vaunted defense—the most efficiently stifling since Kenpom.com began tracking that metric in the 2001--02 season—gave up 53 points in the second half, just one fewer than their offense scored in the entire game, to an opponent that two months earlier had lost to Albany by 44 and was making just its second tournament appearance. On March 16 in Charlotte, UMBC routed the team at the top of the polls by 20—and the outcome felt even more lopsided than that.

The Retrievers were the toast of the sports world in the immediate wake of their 74--54 win. And though they lost in the next round to Kansas State, 50--43, their place in college hoops lore is indelible, sure to be invoked by announcers whenever a No. 1 seed is forced to sweat in its opener and by coaches whenever their aspirant long shots prepare to take the floor. For more than three decades such hope was illusory. On a Friday night in Charlotte, with a flurry of three-pointers and a spark of defiance, the Retrievers made it real.