BURLINGTON, Vt. — Jairus Lyles was determined to come up with a different ending for UMBC.
Lyles improvised in the final moments and hit a long 3-pointer with less than a second left, lifting Maryland Baltimore County over top-seeded Vermont 65-62 Saturday in the America East championship game.
“I waved off the last play from the bench, tried to get me some space and take the shot to end the game,” Lyles said.
Second-seeded UMBC (24-10) had lost 23 straight times to the Catamounts over the last 10 years, including twice this season by a combined 45 points. But with Lyles scoring 27 points, the Retrievers rallied to earn their first NCAA Tournament trip since 2008.
Vermont (27-7) led 57-48, but didn’t make a basket in the final 8:21.
“Obviously, it did not finish the way we want,” Vermont coach John Becker said.
Lyles went 5-for-7 from 3-point range. He tied it with a deep 3 with 1:01 to go, setting up his final shot.
“This is a dream come true. I grew up watching Adam Morrison of Gonzaga and Steph Curry play for Davidson in the tournament, and now to get to play for it is awesome,” said K.J. Maura, who added eight points for UMBC.
Tre Bell-Haynes scored 18 for the Catamounts, which went 17-1 against America East opponents this season.
“Vermont is the gold standard in the America East. They have the tradition that we want to create at UMBC,” coach Ryan Odom said.
Lyles scored 15 points in the first half and closed the period with a late 3 for a 37-35 edge. Vermont responded on the defensive end to start the second half, holding the Retrievers to just two baskets on their first 15 tries over the first 12 minutes.
Three free throws by Everett Duncan and a three-point play by Bell-Haynes capped a 12-3 run that put Vermont ahead 47-39. The Catamounts led by nine several times in the second half.
Peyton Henson scored 14 points, Ernie Duncan added 10 and Drew Urquhart had seven and 10 rebounds for Vermont.
Vermont: Outrebounded UMBC 32-26, but committed 13 turnovers leading to 23 points for the Retrievers.
UMBC: Will find out Sunday where it will play in the NCAA Tournament. In the Retrievers’ only other appearance, they lost to Georgetown 66-47 in 2008.
Vermont: Missed a chance to clinch its second straight trip to the NCAA tourney. The Catamounts lost to Purdue 80-70 last year.