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Jairus Lyles late-game heroics send UMBC to first NCAA Tournament since 2008

UVM tried their hardest to defend its gym, but Lyles had other plans.

UMBC v Arizona Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images

Vermont was looking to make it back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances. UMBC was looking for its first NCAA appearance in 10 years. Only one of them had the ability to walk out of Patrick Gymnasium on Saturday as the America East champion.

With the two-time AE Player of the Year, Trae Bell-Haynes, and the Sixth Man of the Year, Cam Ward, on one side, and UMBC’s fifth all-time leading scorer Jairus Lyles, and the Defensive Player of the Year KJ Maura on the other, it was going to be a battle of some of the most talented players in the league. And that doesn’t include the other players awarded to all-conference teams.

But the biggest question of the game was whether UMBC’s standouts could keep up with the powerhouse that has become Vermont.

Turns out the Retreivers could.

UVM had a bit of a three-point frenzy in the first half and UMBC tried to answer. Even though they have made quite a few threes on the day (10-22 3FG), UMBC isn’t the team to throw them up in desperation, but that’s what was happening. But then the Marua/Lyles combo got going, they managed to force UVM into a shot clock violation with less than a minute in the first half. Lyles then hit a three to give the Retriever’s a two-point lead at the half.

“They [Vermont] have really good shooters. You go down there and double them every single time, they have smart players inside and they know when to kick it out. We were just trying to create doubt in their mind.” said UMBC coach Ryan Odom after the game.

Out of the locker room, Vermont was quickly able to pick up the lead, but with UMBC not far behind. There were a few things hindering UMBC’s ability to keep the lead, including Maura picking up his fourth foul pretty early on, leaving him on the bench, and Lyles needing to carry the team single handedly.

“We knew we had to outplay their guards and hold our own inside, to have a chance at being able to win.” Odom said

But with Maura back in the game, it lit a spark for UMBC. The Retrievers managed to completely erase the deficit to tie the game at 58. They battled back and forth until it was tied at 62. Vermont had the ball, and were going to give themselves the lead, but Trae Bell-Haynes missed a jumper, Joe Sherburne had a nice block, and Max Curran came away with the defensive rebound.

In the hands of the best player UMBC has had in a while, Lyles held out until the final seconds, having been told by Odom that they weren’t taking a timeout. He let the ball fly from beyond the arc, and it went through the net and silencing the arena. The shot also snapped a 23-game losing streak to the Catamounts.

Lyles ended the game with a game-high 27 points. UMBC will be heading to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008 and will find out the particulars on Selection Sunday.