UMBC does the unthinkable, becoming the first 16 seed to beat a No. 1 seed

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The slipper had been gathering dust since the NCAA tournament field expanded to 64 teams in 1985, with No. 16 seeds a pristine 0-135 all time until Friday, when UMBC became college basketball's ultimate Cinderella.

The Retrievers, champions of the America East, pulled off what was thought to be impossible, the most stunning upset in tournament history, the first 16 seed to upend a No. 1, sending Virginia into ignominy 74-54.

But it wasn't just that UMBC won. The Retrievers dominated.

"I just can't wait to get to bed and think about it," point guard K.J. Maura said. "I went to Coach [Ryan Odom] and said, 'I told you.'"

UMBC, formally known as the University of Maryland, Baltimore County jumped out to an early lead.

The Retrievers stifled the Cavaliers' offense at every turn.

They had answers to every Virginia run.

They never trailed in the second half.

It was stunning not just in its unlikelihood, but in the insanity of how certain the outcome seemed for the final 15 minutes of the game.

"We're talented, we're everything every other team is," guard Jourdan Grant said. "Coach just told us to go out there and take the shots."

For UMBC, the shots fell. For Virginia, it was a staggering level of ineptitude.

The slow start for Virginia wasn't shocking. The Cavaliers have hardly relied on a dynamic offense this season, and the injury that kept guard De'Andre Hunter out removed one more scorer from the lineup. The score was tied 21-21 at the half, and the buzz all surrounded Virginia's woeful performance and the inevitable second-half adjustments.

When the second half tipped, however, it was UMBC that had found the spark.

"It was just don't let up," Arkel Lamar said of the mood at the half. "Keep our foot on their throat, keep the ball hot, play defense, do what we do."

The Retrievers opened the second half with a 17-3 run that energized a crowd that became more raucous with each bucket. Players on UMBC's bench held aloft "March Madness" towels with each shot, and indeed, this was madness.

Maura, all of 5-foot-8, scuttled Virginia's smothering defense, draining 3s and dishing for easy buckets. Madness.

Every small Cavaliers run was quickly answered by a Retrievers team that seemed utterly unshakable on this big stage. Madness.

During the under-12 timeout, highlights of the eight No. 15 seeds to advance flickered, but that was child's play. What was unfolding on the court below was the real Cinderella story. It was the best kind of madness.

Maura was the star, if for no other reason than what he represented -- a true David against Virginia's Goliaths. He frustrated Virginia all night, then celebrated with his usual gesture -- a mimed bow-and-arrow routine -- which is a nod to his dad in the stands. It's a move UMBC fans have seen dozens of times, but one that's now a part of NCAA lore.

"I love it, I love it," Maura said of toying with UVA's big men. "That's been me my whole life. I have to prove myself every time I step on the court. Height's never meant anything to me. It's heart over height."

The hefty contingent of Virginia faithful stood in shock, hands on on their heads and mouths agape as fans in purple and blue and red -- all here to see other teams -- became rabid devotees of the Retrievers. This was history, after all.

"We knew as soon as we walked in the door, we had UNC [fans] on our side," Lamar said.

With 3:29 to play, Arkel Lamar drained a 3 from the corner, the crowd erupted, and he danced back down the court as Virginia coach Tony Bennett called for a timeout. The dejected Cavaliers convened on the sideline -- ostensibly to find answers, but perhaps more to contemplate their role in history. The Retrievers led by 17.

The celebrations along UMBC's bench were half the fun, and after the game, even the role players were busy checking Twitter, reveling in a follow by a professional gamer known for the game "Fortnite," a favorite of the Retrievers team and the inspiration for their celebratory routines.

The school's Twitter feed blew up, jumping from 5,000 followers before the game to more than 31,000 after. After the game, Isaiah Rogers was yelling in the locker room, "No more perfect brackets."

The little team from Baltimore that few people knew when the game tipped off was now the most popular program in the country.

"We knew we could play with them," Nolan Gerrity said. "Somebody had to be the first [16 to win]."

In terms of point spreads, this was not the biggest upset in tournament history but in sheer exhilaration, sheer ridiculousness, the brazen confidence of the underdogs, it's hard to consider UMBC's win anything other than the most unlikely victory in the tournament's history.

There have been close calls before, of course, for No. 1 seeds. Georgetown escaped Princeton by a point in 1989. Oklahoma edged East Tennessee State by a point in that same tournament. But 1996 -- before nearly every player on the court Friday was born -- marked the last time a final score of a 1-16 matchup was decided by even a single possession.

For more than three decades, it was the surest bet in sports -- until UMBC showed up in Charlotte with a confidence that loomed far larger than seeding, than matchups, than history.

"We were here, and we wanted to leave with no regrets," Grant said. "That's what we did."