By Jack Rothenberg
A red-hot night for the Alabama Crimson Tide left the Maryland Terrapins hopeless in a 96-77 loss in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The Terps’ normally stout defense was no match for an Alabama offense that dropped in 16 three pointers and shot 53 percent from the field. Maryland tried to keep pace, but didn’t have enough offensive fire power even with a career-high 27 points from junior guard Aaron Wiggins.
Maryland got off to a great start with four of Maryland’s five starters scoring a basket by the first timeout. This run was capped off with a Wiggins tomahawk slam and an early 11-5 lead. But three premature substitutes changed the game dramatically.
After a foul by Alabama’s Herbert Jones with 13 minutes to play in the half and Maryland still holding a six point lead, Turgeon replaced three starters with senior forward Galin Smith, senior guard Reese Mona and junior forward Jairus Hamilton. The only three players to come off the bench for the majority of the game were unable to be productive on offense, but also struggled mightily on defense and as a result squandered the Terps’ early lead.
With all five players on the Crimson Tide being threats from long range, Smith wasn’t quick enough in help defense to close out on Alabama’s shooters. This aided the Crimson Tide’s comeback.
Maryland’s small lineup has struggled with rebounding regularly giving up second chance opportunities to its opponents. This plagued the Terps once again as they gave up 15 offensive rebounds and 20 second chance points.
As the Crimson Tide started to hit shots even when solidly contested, it turned into a high scoring contest which didn’t bode well for the Terps. Alabama made seven threes on their way to a 46-38 halftime lead, that, while far from insurmountable, left Maryland holding on by a thread.
However, within the first five minutes of the second period the Crimson Tide made five more shots from deep. On a scorching hot shooting night, Alabama opened a 23 point lead in the blink of an eye eliminating any chance the Terps might have thought they had at the start of the half.
While Maryland fought until the final buzzer, their season came to an end in the round of 32. In an up and down season, senior guard Darryl Morsell reflected on how this team will be looked at down the road. “It’s the grittiest guys I’ve ever played basketball with… (We’re) the smallest team in the best conference in the world, playing the best big men in the country… I think we go down in my record book as the grittiest team to ever put that Maryland jersey on,” Morsell said.
Morsell admitted after the game that he had been playing with an injured labrum that will require surgery in the coming days. Morsell said the doctors left it up to him whether he wanted to continue to play, and he decided to fight through the pain so he could be out there and fight for his teammates.
With many of Maryland starter’s futures in doubt, it’s difficult to put together an accurate estimation of what the team will look like next season and what to expect. One thing we can take away from this season is what the players meant to each other and their coach. “They’re going to be remembered as a team that sacrificed, was undersized, guys played out of position and they went to the final 32… I’m proud of every group, but this one will have a special place in my heart,” head coach Mark Turgeon said.
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