With the entire season on the line in the waning seconds of the American East Conference Championship game against the University of Vermont, former DeMatha standout and University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) junior guard Jairus Lyles stared down his defender while slowly dribbling to find his sweet spot on the floor.
As the clock trickled down to the final seconds of play in a tie game (62-62), Lyles pulled up and released a shot that decided if his team would be dancing in March or going into overtime.
Before serving as a guard for UMBC, Jairus Lyles, now a junior, was a standout player at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Md. (Photo by Daniel Kucin Jr. )
As the ball sailed through the air on a contested shot, the fans in attendance at Brennan Court Patrick Gym could only watch the fate of their season in the hands of UMBC’s best playmaker.
In less than a second, the ball sank into the cylinder as it caressed the twine and sunk to punch in the Retrievers automatic bid ticket to play in the 2018 NCAA Basketball Championship tournament.
“Win the game, that was all that was going through my head,” Lyles said about the game-winning shot. “He called a play, and I waved it off. Trae Bell-Haynes gave me some space, so I just raised up and hit the shot right over him.”
Lyles wasn’t afraid of taking big shots while playing for the Stags in high school where he averaged more than 13 points per game and 4.3 assists per contest during his senior year.
The six-foot-two, 175-pound guard showed off his talents against the Catamounts by leading his team in scoring with 27 points and nailed the infamous shot that was seen around the world on national television leading the Retrievers to a No. 16 seed against the No. 1 Virginia Cavaliers on March 16.
As a true underdog, the Retrievers entered the tournament looking to complete their journey while most of America canceled them out of contention on their brackets in the first round of play. UMBC had other plans. Behind a 28-point performance from Lyles, the Retrievers rewrote the history books by becoming the first-ever No. 16 seed to take down a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship tourney.
“I think we had the confidence coming into the game,” Lyles said after the match. “I don’t think there was a point in the game that we thought we couldn’t play with them.”
Lyles set the UMBC single-season record for points scored (653 points) and the single-season record for free throws made with 377 after slaying the Cavaliers.
The Retrievers advanced with the weight of the nation on their shoulders as they battled against Kansas State University on March 18 but fell short in a 50-43 loss during the second round. Once again, Lyles led his team in scoring with 12 points, and he also made some big plays down the stretch by accounting for six rebounds, four assists, and four steals.
The Retrievers hung with the No. 9 Wildcats throughout the duration of the match and only trailed by three points with 1:37 remaining. Kansas State closed the door by going on a 6-0 run before Lyles hit a three-pointer as time expired.
Despite losing to a powerhouse in the second round, UMBC became America’s team in a short period of time. Lyles willed his squad as David did against Goliath in the opening round and continued to make Kansas State earn every single point until the final buzzer sounded.
UMBC fans will have another year to watch Lyles attempt to repeat history if he does not declare for the NBA Draft. But, one thing is for sure, he will go down in history for sparking one of the greatest March Madness upsets in NCAA history.