It always ends in a loss. But for the previous 135 16-seeds in the 64-team era of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament before Friday night, that loss came in the first round. The UMBC Retrievers, fresh off a dismantling of the so-called “top” team in the country, made the most of their reprieve in staying within one possession of Kansas State for most of tonight’s game before falling apart in the end, 50-43.
That is not to say it was a good basketball game. Whereas on Friday the representatives of Baltimore County dispatched the Virginia Cavaliers with bullseye shooting and aggressive defense, Sunday’s affair in Charlotte resembled the inept game NBA mavens declare the entirety of college basketball in besmirching. The teams combined for 35 turnovers. UMBC shot below 30% from the field and only hit half their free throws. And, yet, the Retrievers made it a game.
The difference between tonight and Friday: while against Virginia, UMBC would have concluded the above Keystone Kops sequence with a corner three, the more athletic and aggressive KSU defense ended the possession with a blocked shot in the paint. Kansas State likely can’t play much worse than they did tonight, or at least they’d better hope not else their matchup against Kentucky on Thursday will be uglier than a Bluegrass State election.
We’re just happy to be nominated, of course, and the disappointment shared amongst tonight’s observers is perhaps a testament to UMBC’s historic 16-over-1 feat being perceived as not a mere glitch in the matrix but a gross abuse of the seeding system. UMBC had better shot chances and played better defense, and against all logic again looked like the team that should have won the game.
They didn’t. They never do. Except they did, once. And that’s something!