CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Sometimes a coach’s most important job is convincing his players of something he isn’t quite sure of himself.
“The big thing we tried to do was stay confident and poised,” Kansas State coach Bruce Weber said following his team’s 50-43 victory over Maryland-Baltimore County in the second round of the NCAA South Regional. “No matter how dumb we played or how bad we played, I just kept saying, ’We’re fine, guys; we’re still winning. Keep guarding, and somebody step up and make some plays. We did down the stretch.”
K-State reached the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2010, when the Wildcats reached the Elite Eight before falling to Butler. The Wildcats will face Kentucky at 8:37 p.m. Thursday in Atlanta. The game will be televised on WIBW (13.1).
Weber was so focused on Sunday night’s game that he didn’t know the Wildcats’ next destination. “Is that where we’re going?” he said.
Kansas State survived a pesky UMBC squad that pestered the K-State offense throughout the night. But the Wildcats hit just enough shots when it counted. More importantly, they held UMBC on multiple possessions when the Retrievers had a chance to take the lead in the second half.
Barry Brown, who led the Wildcats with 18 points, held UMBC star guard Jairus Lyles to just 12 on 4-of-15 shooting. “We all watched our matchups, and I knew that was going to be my matchup most of the game,” he said.
“He’s a good player (with) a plethora of moves and ways to score. It wasn’t just me. We did a lot of switching. My teammates contained him, as well. We had each other’s back.”
Weber called Brown “one of the best defenders in the country.
He takes a lot of confidence (in his defense). When he was a freshman, I said, ‘Who is going to be our defensive stopper?’ I hoped one of the older guys would step up. But Barry said, ‘I am.’ ”
Lyles said the K-State defense was tough. But he believed the Retrievers had chances; they just didn’t convert those chances.
“They did a good job of speeding us up,” Lyles said. “We had a lot of turnovers. But for the most part I felt like we got open shots. We didn’t make any shots today. It happens some games. Unfortunately it happened today.”
K-State’s defensive effort was even more impressive considering what UMBC did to the nation’s best defense Friday night. Virginia, the overall No. 1 seed, came into the game averaging 54 points allowed per game, three points better than any other Division I defense. The Retrievers scored 53 in the second half alone in a 74-54 victory over the Cavaliers, the first ever by a 16-seed.
UMBC never appeared just happy to be in the second round. The Retrievers were within two points on multiple occasions in the second half, and were as close as 38-37 with 6:01 remaining. They just couldn’t get over the hump.
“We never lost confidence in ourselves, even when they had a little run,” K.J. Maura said. ”(We) still had the mentality that we were going to win the game.”
Neither team could get much offense. The Wildcats shot 40.9 percent from the field, and the Retrievers were worse at 29.8 percent. The Wildcats were led by Brown with 18 points and Makol Mawien added 11.
This game was as ugly as Cinderella before she got the magic dress and glass slippers. Just when Kansas State would grab a five- or six-point lead, UMBC got right back in it. But UMBC could never tie the score or take the lead.
This game was going to be historic, regardless of the outcome. K-State would either become the first team to defeat a 16-seed in a second-round NCAA Tournament game or the first to lose to a 16-seed in a second-round game. Of course, no 16-seed had ever appeared in a second-round game.
The weight of the college basketball world was on the shoulders of the Wildcats. The Spectrum Center had plenty of UMBC fans who drove down Sunday morning from Baltimore. And the casual sports fan around the country caught Retriever fever since Friday night, as well.
The first half was just as ugly as the second half. Kansas State missed its first nine shots from the field. The Wildcats were 0 of 8 from behind the arc in the first half and shot 37.5 percent from the field.
UMBC wasn’t much better. It could only get a 7-0 lead before Mawien finally put the Wildcats on the scoreboard with an inside move at the 13:39 mark. The Retrievers shot 29.2 percent from the field in the first half. They were 2 of 9 from 3-point range, and just 4 of 9 from the free-throw line.
Brown led the Wildcats with 10 points, including a personal 8-0 run midway through the half that gave the Wildcats their largest lead at 25-17. They finished the half up 25-20. Jourdan Grant led UMBC with six points at halftime.