For a team picked to finish tenth in the preseason Big Ten standings, head coach Kevin Willard guided Maryland back into the second round of the NCAA Tournament behind a 20-win regular season. For the second straight tournament, Maryland saw their season end at the hands of Alabama, but Willard isn’t hanging his head after the 22-point loss.
“I’m going to take away that this was by far the best team that I’ve ever had to coach,” head coach Kevin Willard said postgame. “Again, moving their family — your family going through stuff is unbelievably hard. Leaving a place that you loved and you help build. This team for me made coaching really fun, and I enjoy this. And, you know, it sucks to lose, and I hate losing. But I’m proud of these guys. I’m proud of their effort. I’m proud of what they did. I’m proud of — we had 3,000 people at our first game at Niagara. And we sold out eight straight consecutive games. I mean, I’m proud of the way people look at Maryland Basketball right now. It’s because of these young men and the work that they have done.”
After trimming the deficit to five heading into the locker room, the Crimson Tide found their groove as they steadily tacked onto their lead. After Julian Reese converted an and-one to make it 44-35 with 12:57 left, Alabama used an 8-0 run to blow the game wide open. Maryland would cut it to 12 twice, but the Crimson Tide answered right back before eventually stretching the lead to as many as 24 points. “They just funnel everything into the big guy and, you know, they take away the strong side and the kicks, and they do a great job of it. They use their length tremendously. You know, we didn’t get them moving side to side enough. We tried to slow it down. And we just — we’re not built to slow it down yet.”
Nearly one full year since Kevin Willard was announced as the new head coach, Willard sees Saturday’s loss as the first stepping stone to rebuilding the program. “We’re in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament in 363 days. It’s a good first step. I mean, we have a lot more steps that we need to take as a program, and we will get there. But like I said, if you had told me I would be playing in the Second Round inheriting five guys on the roster, I would have told you you’re nuts.”
Julian Reese finished with a team-high 14 points, but his night was plagued by foul trouble after picking up two quick calls in the first three minutes. Willard didn’t mince words about the officiating that “changed our whole game plan.”
“We were going to pound it inside, pound it inside,” Willard added. That’s what we have been doing for the last two months of the season. We played through Julian. We played at the high post through Julian. We played down low through Julian.” Reese would rejoin the floor midway through the first half, but it took just one more minute until he picked up his third. Reese would check back in for a 14-second stretch minutes later, but four minutes on the floor through the first 20 minutes changed the Terps’ identity against an athletic Crimson Tide team.
“The second foul call was mysterious and even the third one,” Willard added.
Reese, meanwhile, worked to adapt to keep himself on the court. “I feel like when I get fouls, I got to keep the same physicality and just keep playing. I understand that just comes with it. And just leaves some plays alone. Like over the back call and like, just don’t gamble, don’t swipe down on some things. Just got to learn from that and build up.”
Jahmir Young bounced back from his opening round performance to finish with 12 points, one of two in double figures, while adding three rebounds. But with the game out of reach, Young exited the game in what could be his final game as a Terp as the emotions of the moment boiled over with tears on the bench. “I feel like we had a great year and proud of this group overall,” Young added. “Just reflect on it. It was a lot of emotions at the time, but I was just reflecting on the moment and the year that we had.
If it is indeed it for Young on the college level, the former Charlotte transfer ended it as a key foundational piece of the Kevin Willard era. After becoming the first DeMatha product in 20 seasons to wear the Maryland uniform, Young led the team in scoring and became the offensive catalyst through conference play as the Terps flirted with the top 25 through 2023. After recording double figures for the 20th time in 21 games, Young cemented himself among the Big Ten’s best and garnered first team All-Big Ten consideration down the stretch and quickly became the team’s leader.
“Just representing Maryland, you know, just a great university. And our fan base has been, you know, rocking with us all year. So I wouldn’t want to go to war with anybody else. I feel like it was a great decision. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
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