Maryland Baltimore County’s Retrievers fall, but there are still underdogs to cheer on
They wore white warmup shirts reading “Unleash Chaos” and “Shock the World,” two days after they had done just that.
Their feet were encased in shoes sent by Golden State Warriors star and fellow onetime underdog Stephen Curry.
The Maryland Baltimore County Retrievers, America’s Sweet 16 seed, were nearly best in show once more Sunday in the NCAA men’s tournament’s second round.
Trailing Kansas State by only three points with less than two minutes to go, bodies flying across the half-court line to save a possession, the Retrievers finally ran out of miracles at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, N.C.
Jairus Lyles tapped his chest after airballing a desperation three-point shot as the Retrievers’ comeback hopes fizzled in the South Regional. The gesture was symbolic of a player whose team had already touched a nation.
“Well, it was fun y’all,” tweeted the school’s athletic department, which had gone from about 5,400 followers before its 20-point romp over top-seeded Virginia on Friday to 109,000 followers by the end of the Retrievers’ loss to Kansas State. “KState may have won (50-43) but we hope to have won your hearts.”
Maryland Baltimore County couldn’t recapture its magic from 48 hours earlier because it shot 29.8% and scored only three points off Kansas State’s 18 turnovers.
But the Retrievers’ legacy will endure. A sign had been posted on one of the school’s buildings reading “Number one seeds: 135-1. We’re the 1.”
Cinderellas will roam Philips Arena in Atlanta for the South Regional semifinals Thursday even without the Retrievers. The remaining seeds are Nos. 11, 9, 7 and 5, making it the first time all four top seeds were eliminated in the same regional over the NCAA tournament’s opening weekend.
So much for all of Kentucky coach John Calipari’s whining about being put in a monster bracket; his fifth-seeded Wildcats will be heavy favorites against ninth-seeded Kansas State.
There will also be a new national champion after North Carolina fell behind by 24 points against Texas A&M and couldn’t trot out Josh Rosen to the rescue a la the UCLA quarterback helping his Bruins overcome a 34-point deficit against the Aggies’ football team in September.
On the opposite end of the prestige spectrum, the last team selected to participate in the tournament was still standing. Syracuse had gone from First Four to Sweet 16 after playing its third game in five days with a short bench. Good thing it was essentially first team to 10 points wins when the Orange faced Michigan State.
Syracuse prevailed in a 55-53 slug crawl, shrugging off the most improbable shot of the tournament when Michigan State’s Matt McQuaid caught his own blocked three-point shot in midair and flung it off the backboard and into the basket, giving the Spartans a three-point halftime lead.
It felt like the last shot Michigan State made after it missed its final 14 shots of the game against Syracuse’s zone defense. Syracuse joined Virginia Commonwealth (2011), La Salle (2013) and Tennessee (2014) as the only teams to appear in a play-in game and advance to the tournament’s second week. Virginia Commonwealth made it to the Final Four before losing to Butler.
This year’s Final Four could feature, at most, two top-seeded teams after Florida State knocked off Xavier, leaving only No. 1s Villanova and Kansas to salvage scores of busted brackets.
Loyola Chicago doesn’t get often to college basketball’s biggest stage but continues to make the most of its appearances. The 11th-seeded Ramblers advanced to a regional semifinal for the second time since 1985, the last time they were in the NCAA tournament.
Some heroic shots in the final seconds left Loyola’s opponents a rambling wreck. Two days after Donte Ingram’s three-point basket with three-tenths of a second left slayed sixth-seeded Miami, Clayton Custer made a game-winning 15-footer with 3.6 seconds left Saturday against third-seeded Tennessee.
Custer’s next stand will come Thursday in Atlanta against seventh-seeded Nevada, whose only lead during a 75-73 comeback victory over Cincinnati after being down 22 points came courtesy of the game-winning basket. Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt, Loyola’s chaplain and 98-year-old good-luck charm, will presumably be on hand at Philips Arena to flash more thumbs-up from her wheelchair.
Dolores-Schmidt delivered the best one-liner of the tournament when she told a reporter inquiring about her status as a national sensation: “Really, if I can correct you, international.”
Dolores-Schmidt could have administered last rites to the Pac-12 Conference after it receded further into the background. The best thing that could be said about Friday, Saturday and Sunday among Pac-12 proponents was that they weren’t Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, when conference teams went a combined 0-3.
Arizona State might have been feeling a bit better about its loss to Syracuse after the Orange lived to play another week, but UCLA and Arizona were left to wallow in their conquerors going one (win) and undone. The Bruins’ loss to St. Bonaventure was doubly embarrassing because it came in a play-in game and led to fans funding a plane banner circling campus reading “Final Fours not First Fours #FireAlford.”
Purdue was flying high Sunday even without injured center Isaac Haas, who is probably out for the tournament after breaking his right elbow in the first round against Cal State Fullerton. That left Haas’ 7-foot-3 replacement, Matt Haarms, to repeatedly run his hand through his floppy hair on the way to seven points, six rebounds and two blocks during a victory over Butler. Haarms even played with his hair after the game while discussing it in the locker room.
“My product wasn’t holding up,” Haarms told reporters. “I should’ve put more in, I guess. … I might need to go to an arts and crafts store and put some glue in there. Anything that keeps it up there. It’s been a yearlong struggle.”
Maryland Baltimore County could have also used a bit more staying power, leaving basketball fans to wonder if it will take another 33 years to witness the kind of upset the Retrievers unfurled in the first round.
Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch
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