In the first two rounds that saw two No. 1-seeded teams fail to make it out of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, No. 8 seed Maryland entered its second round matchup against top-seeded Alabama with intentions of knocking off the tournament’s Goliath.
With sophomore big man Julian Reese in foul trouble for the majority of the game, Maryland’s lack of offensive depth was too much to overcome, as Jahvon Quinerly’s 22-point performance lifted the Crimson Tide over the Terps, 73-51, on Saturday night in Birmingham.
Maryland finished the season with a 22-13 overall record in the first year of the Kevin Willard era.
“They have made this by far my best coaching job I’ve ever had,” Willard said of his team. “It’s very difficult to leave some place you love very much and come to a new place, and these guys made this year absolutely phenomenal. … We’re in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 363 days. It’s a good first step.”
The game’s opening minutes favored Maryland in almost every way possible. A quick two baskets for Reese – who had 17 points and nine rebounds in Thursday’s two-point win over West Virginia – helped the Terps take a 9-2 lead.
The scoring outburst was short-lived, as the Terps went cold offensively in the following minutes. Despite its scoring struggles – which included a 2-for-20 shooting stretch – where Maryland lost its ground was on the interior.
Reese – who has dealt with foul trouble all season – picked up two fouls in less than a minute and was forced to sit with 17:03 remaining in the half.
With Maryland leading 12-10, Reese entered the game to try and help the Terps regain the offensive flow they showed in the opening stages. On a fast-break layup attempt from Brandon Miller, Reese picked up foul number three and had to sit for the final 8:50.
“The second foul call was mysterious and even the third one,” Willard said. “You can’t call that second foul. Not in an NCAA Tournament game. I thought it was a horrible call and changed the outcome of the game. You can’t take our best player out of the game when the game was as physical as it was. It was a horrible call. It changed our whole game plan.”
Alabama’s lead grew to as many as eight, but two late baskets from Don Carey and Jahmir Young helped trim the deficit to 28-23 at halftime.
The Crimson Tide began to distance themselves out of the break through their rebounding and capitalized on many wasted Maryland scoring opportunities. The Terps missed 10 layups and shot only 35% from the field in the game.
“They are very athletic,” Young said. “And they challenge every shot, so I feel like they did a good job of protecting the rim.”
Down by seven points with just under 16 minutes to play, Young’s fast-break layup attempt was pinned off the backboard by Brandon Miller, who knocked down an ensuing three on the other end to give Alabama a 10-point lead.
This five-point swing seemed to take the wind out of Maryland’s sails. Miller and Quinerly continued their relentless offensive attack as Alabama’s lead ballooned to near 20.
Miller – who was held scoreless in Thursday’s win over Texas A&M CC – poured in 19 points and seven rebounds on Saturday.
The Crimson Tide out-rebounded the Terps by 12 and scored 16 second-chance points on 15 offensive rebounds.
Aside from Young, who finished with 12 points on 5-of-13 shooting in his second career NCAA Tournament game, and a team-high 14 points from Reese, Maryland received limited offensive production from its remaining starters.
Seniors Donta Scott and Hakim Hart struggled to find an offensive rhythm against the longer, more athletic Alabama defense. The pair combined for seven points on 2-of-14 shooting from the field in what could be their final games in a Maryland uniform.
“There’s a reason why [Alabama] was second in 3-point field-goal defense,” Willard said. “… They use their length tremendously. We didn’t get them moving side to side enough. We tried to slow it down. We’re not built to slow it down yet.”
The Terps were 1-8 from 3-point range and missed nine free throws in the loss.
Young – a Dematha graduate – transferred to Maryland with the goal of competing in the NCAA Tournament for the hometown school he grew up watching.
“Just representing Maryland,” Young said about the season. “[It’s] just a great university, … I wouldn’t want to go to war with anybody else, so I feel like it was a great decision and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
He was visibly emotional on the bench after checking out for the final time.
“[I was] really just reflecting on the year,” Young said. “I feel like we had a great year and [I’m] just proud of this group overall. … It was a lot of emotions at the time, and I was really just reflecting on the moment and the year that we’ve had.”
The defeat was eerily reminiscent of the previous time the two teams met, where Quinerly and Alabama overcame a hot Maryland start and shot the lights out in the Crimson Tide’s round of 32 victory over the Terps in the 2021 tournament.
With the win, Alabama has moved on to the Sweet Sixteen to face San Diego State on Friday. Maryland ends its first season under Kevin Willard 22-13 (11-9).
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