If UMBC is going to continue its “U Must Be Cinderella” run Sunday, the No. 16 seed is going to have to get another big game from its leading scorer.
Jairus Lyles scored 28 points in the Retrievers’ 74-54 beatdown of No. 1 Virginia Friday night in Charlotte, having a dreamlike game to ignite one of the most startling upsets in sports history.
So can Lyles – whose parents went to Virginia, and whose father was a defensive back in the NFL – do something special again Sunday at 7:45 p.m. against Kansas State?
UMBC will need him to, because the 6-foot-2 guard averages 20 points per game and was the player who got UMBC to the NCAA tournament and Charlotte in the first place. It was Lyles who hit the buzzer-beating 3-pointer to ignite UMBC’s first big upset of the last couple of weeks, a win over favored Vermont that got the Retrievers their date with Virginia.
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Then Lyles got to the rim against the Cavaliers with impunity Friday. He shot 9-of-11 from the floor, with many of his shots contested in the lane after he had beaten an initial defender and then had to shoot over a second one. “I feel like I can get past anybody,” Lyles said.
Lyles also chased Virginia star Kyle Guy all over the court on defense, and with four minutes left Lyles was cramping badly during a timeout.
“I was over there drinking salt, vinegar – anything they gave me,” Lyles said Saturday. “I was just trying to get the cramps out. Yeah, I had a little cup of vinegar. Straight up. It was disgusting.”
It worked, just like everything else did on one of the most magical nights in NCAA tournament history. UMBC – a school previously more well-known for a chess team that has won multiple national championships – became the first No. 16 seed to take down a No. 1 in the men’s basketball tournament.
Lyles has waited a long time for something like that, taking a circuitous route to get there. The son of former Virginia and NFL defensive back Lester Lyles, Jairus Lyles was a product of the legendary DeMatha High in the Washington, D.C., area and once was a teammate of future NBA star Victor Oladipo.
Lyles originally signed with coach Shaka Smart and VCU, but grew frustrated with a lack of playing time (he played just 2.6 minutes per game as a freshman) and transferred after a year.
He first transferred to Robert Morris, but only stayed a semester and never played. Then he transferred again to UMBC, where he had to sit out a year before starring for the Retrievers for each of the next three. He has been in school long enough now that he has a degree in psychology and sociology and is officially a graduate student.
As for beating his parents’ alma mater, Lyles said his father and mother, Carol Motley, had no divided loyalties Friday.
“There were no mixed feelings,” Lyles said. “They were happy for me.”
Lyles teams in the UMBC backcourt with K.J. Maura, the 140-pound Puerto Rican point guard who is listed at 5-foot-8 but said Saturday he is closer to 5-7. It was the two of them who overruled coach Ryan Odom’s play call in their conference tournament final – twice on the same play – and decided instead to let Lyles isolate one-on-one against his defender and win the game.
It’s doubtful UMBC can survive Sunday if Lyles has a 3-for-15 shooting night. But if Lyles plays near the level he did Friday against Virginia, UMBC will be this tournament’s biggest story for another week.