Mark Armstrong: UMBC shocks the world, and I was there

Mark Armstrong Image
Saturday, March 17, 2018
UMBC's K.J. Maura (11) drives past Virginia's Devon Hall (0) during the second half.
UMBC's K.J. Maura (11) drives past Virginia's Devon Hall (0) during the second half.
Gerry Broome-AP

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WTVD) -- Some things are out of your hands. You're either in the right place at the right time or you're not. Last night, divine providence shined down upon me as basketball history happened a block away in Charlotte.

As 16 seed UMBC was dismantling number one overall seed Virginia at the Spectrum center, I was back at the media hotel doing my 10 and 11 p.m. sportscasts. Once I wrapped those - the sports anchor in me wrapped up for the day, and the sports fan in me kicked in. I HAD to get back to the arena and immerse myself in the historic madness that had unfolded.

After sprinting back to my room to grab my credential, I jetted down the packed streets, passing the hordes of stunned UVA fans exiting the arena. Some were smiling in disbelief, almost refusing to acknowledge reality, but most looked like death. They had witnessed something unimaginably horrible unfold before their eyes. A season of dominance dashed by a pack of Retrievers. Not just dashed either, but smashed. UMBC blew them out.

The first people I saw on the court were the UMBC cheerleaders and band. Naturally-- I had to get a pic with them.

Next, I hustled down to the locker room. It was half joyous, half disbelief in there. As he tried to put the enormity of their feat into words, reserve big man Nolan Gerrity could only muster "it's like getting your first win at Fortnite", which is an immensely popular online shoot 'em up game.

I'd had one experience with UMBC previously. While working in Baltimore, prior to coming to ABC11, I'd gone to the school to cover a pep rally for their National Championship chess team. They are a juggernaut. When I brought that up, the Retrievers players gladly conceded that UMBC is a chess school and that the hoops team is just trying to get on their level.

I spoke with 28 point hero Jairus Lyles and their tiny point guard, 5'8 140lb KJ Maura. He spoke passionately of repping Puerto Rico on the national stage and growing up dreaming of playing in March Madness. His entire life he had been told he was too small, too tiny to ever have a shot to play in the same tournament as his hero JJ Redick. He didn't just play, he made history.

I needed to be there to experience history. I'm in this business because first and foremost I'm a sports fan. Last night was magic.