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How UMBC pulled off its historic upset of No. 1 Virginia

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UMBC coach credits defense for upset of Virginia (1:08)

Ryan Odom explains that his team did a good job of fighting through screens throughout the game to pull off the greatest upset in NCAA tournament history. (1:08)

Virginia just made history, and not the kind that the Cavaliers thought they were going to make. On the other hand, UMBC has covered its name in improbable but ever-lasting fame. We've now seen a No. 16 seed beat a No. 1 seed, and it happened by a 20-point margin.

(Pause right there for a second.)

Now, let's cut to the chase and ask a simple basketball question: What, exactly, happened?

The Retrievers played a perfect 20 minutes

To take down a No. 1 seed, you have to be better than great. You need to play close to the very performance horizon of the sport itself. That sounds like a lofty standard, but we just saw UMBC do something like that after halftime.

The Retrievers scored an incredible 53 points in just 35 second-half possessions. The works out to 1.53 points for every trip down the floor, a level of scoring that's close to unheard of from any offense playing against any defense. UMBC quite simply played the sport as well as it can be played.

In the second half, Ryan Odom's team made seven 3-pointers. That sounds like a small number, but keep in mind it's higher than what Virginia allowed in 19 entire games this season. The 21 points that players like Jairus Lyles and Joe Sherburne were scoring on 3s alone would have been a problem in any case. But, incredibly, the Retrievers were also carving up the Hoos on the interior.

The Virginia defense was shockingly soft on the interior

Repeatedly throughout the game, and indeed even in a low-scoring first half, the Retrievers (and Lyles in particular) made Virginia pay with dribble penetration. That's supposed to be an impossible task against the Cavaliers, but UMBC made it look easy.

Certainly, there were basketball factors in play. The floor spacing of Odom's offense was excellent and, as a team, the Retrievers are quicker (and, yes, smaller) than the Hoos were likely expecting from a No. 16 seed.

Still, if we're looking for answers from X's and O's alone for an event of this magnitude, we're likely barking up the wrong tree. UMBC shot 75 percent on its 2-pointers in the second half (12-of-16). That is simply extraordinary, and it highlights the extent to which Virginia was, for reasons we may never understand, utterly unprepared to compete in much less win this game.

The Cavaliers were terrible for the entire game on offense

Tony Bennett's team recorded its second-worst outing of the entire season on offense, producing just 0.87 points per possession. Only the Cavaliers' showing against Wisconsin in December was, barely, worse (and the Hoos still managed to win that game 49-37).

Virginia almost certainly would have fared better (though not well enough to make up 20 points) if the offense had swapped 3-pointers that weren't falling for more 2-point attempts. Make no mistake, the 3s weren't falling.

Ty Jerome was 2-of-9 from beyond the arc. Devon Hall was 0-of-6. As a team, the Cavaliers hit just 18 percent of their 3s (4-of-22). Hitting a mere four 3s represents this offense's third-lowest output from beyond the arc all season.

History requires many strange things all happening at once

To recap, UMBC played a perfect 20 minutes, the Retrievers opened up the Virginia interior defense with ease, and the Cavaliers picked this moment to be worse from the perimeter than they were in 30 of their previous 33 games. Any one of those things happening would have been a big story.

But all of those things occurring at the same time led to one of the biggest stories in the 33-year modern era of the NCAA tournament. We just saw history being made, and it was the UMBC Retrievers who made it. As a result, Odom's team will never be forgotten.