The UMBC men’s basketball team is riding high. Fresh off a conference championship they’re off to play in the program’s first NCAA Tournament game in a decade.
The emotional high of making the tourney is a feeling that just keeps lingering.
“It’s been amazing, these past couple days,” said UMBC guard Jourdan Grant. “Just living in the moment, trying to enjoy it with my guys and my coaches. It’s been great.”
“It’s extremely exciting. I’m just so happy to see the smiles on these guys’ faces,” said UMBC Head Coach Ryan Odom about his players.
The America East Conference Champions depart for Charlotte on Tuesday night, where the program will play in it’s first NCAA Tourney game since 2008. And where the players will fulfill their goal of performing on the biggest stage.
“It’s something special. It’s something you dream about as a kid,” said UMBC guard K.J. Maura about playing in the NCAA Tournament. “I just want to make my family proud. I just want my friends to look at the TV and see that’s my best friend, that’s my guy.”
“Everybody just says go and have fun but we’re going to win a game,” added Grant.
That won’t be easy.
The Retrievers are the No. 16 seed in the South region of the tournament. They face top overall seed Virginia.
In the history of the NCAA Tournament a 16 has never beaten a one. It’s the quintessential David vs. Goliath matchup.
“I think David won that fight, right? We’re ready for the challenge,” said Maura.
“It’s never been done but coach keeps telling us we can be the ones to do it. I believe in my guys,” said Grant.
“We’re getting ready to play the most consistent team in the country, the best team in the country on both sides of the ball,” said Odom. “We’re going to have to play our best basketball just to hang in there.”
Of course the Retrievers are going dancing because of the shot heard round Baltimore: Jairus Lyles’ conference title-winning three-pointer with less than a second remaining on the clock to give UMBC the 65-62 upset victory at Vermont last Saturday.
“Just looking at the reaction of the bench and our coaching staff, that’s the most exciting part, knowing that we won the game. Not even just the shot," said the UMBC guard. "But we’re trying to not relive that moment too much because we know we got to win a game on Friday.”
That game on Friday tips off at 9:20 p.m.
Follow Shawn Stepner on Twitter @StepnerWMAR and Facebook