Maryland is overwhelmed by Alabama in NCAA Tournament second round loss


BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – The Maryland men’s basketball team had a chance for a breakthrough, a victory that could have turned Saturday into one of the program’s biggest moments in two decades. But that opportunity was snuffed out by the lanky limbs of top-seeded Alabama’s defenders. Hope faded, bit by bit, as the Crimson Tide players grabbed rebounds and turned misses into success. And in the end, a victory was emphatically denied by the athletic bodies that clogged the paint, leaving the Terrapins with nowhere to go but home.

In this NCAA Tournament second round, the Crimson Tide was superior, as its No. 1 overall seed suggests. And Maryland’s roster — lacking Alabama’s depth, athleticism and surefire NBA talent — crumbled down the stretch, turning a contest that remained tight early into a 73-51 defeat. With Alabama’s campus just a short drive away, Legacy Arena roared as the Crimson Tide stormed away to end the season for the eighth-seeded Terps.

Alabama (31-5) advances to face No. 5 San Diego State in a regional semifinal Friday in Louisville. Maryland coach Kevin Willard can only turn to his second season in College Park and hope his team might then generate an NCAA tournament run that lasts longer than a weekend.

“It’s a good first step,” Willard said. “We have a lot more steps to take as a program and we will get there.”

The Terps (22-13) were undone by Julian Reese’s foul trouble, which left them vulnerable around the rim, and by an offense that could never figure out an effective way to operate against all that Alabama size. Maryland shot just 35.2 percent despite barely attempting shots from deep. (The Terps were 1 for 8 from three-point range.) Maryland’s defense held firm for most of the game, and that kept it from slipping out of range. But when the Crimson Tide’s advantage swelled to double digits early in the second half, the game spiraled toward an Alabama blowout.

Reese picked up his fourth foul with 12:12 left. The sophomore played just 20 minutes, and the Terps were far better with him than without. Reese scored a team-high 14 points, but his backup — Patrick Emilien, who played for St. Francis of Brooklyn a year ago, and freshman Caelum Swanton-Rodger — couldn’t keep up with their Crimson Tide counterparts. Reese fouled out in the final minutes when a Maryland victory was already well out of reach.

Willard described Reese’s second foul — committed less than three minutes into the game when he tangled with an Alabama player after the Tide secured a defensive rebound — as “a terrible call” that “changed the outcome of the game .”

He added: “It changed our whole game plan. We had to knock it inside, knock it inside.”

The Terrapins produced moments of promise, especially on the defensive end, but the Crimson Tide always answered. Consider a quick stretch right around the time the game started to slip away for the Terps: Hakim Hart grabbed a steal and Maryland tried to turn it into an easy basket. But Jahmir Young’s jumper was knocked away by Brandon Miller, who then hit a three-pointer in transition to give Alabama its first double-digit lead with about 15 minutes left. From there, the Crimson Tide never wavered.

Jahvon Quinerly (22 points) hit three-pointers on back-to-back possessions with less than four minutes remaining, ensuring Alabama would finish by a comfortable margin. And freshman phenom Brandon Miller offered 19 points and seven rebounds before the starters exited to a standing ovation from a crowd that felt like home.

Miller, the Crimson Tide’s best player, has faced intense security this season because of his connection to the January shooting death of a young mother. A Tuscaloosa Police Department detective testified last month that Miller provided a gun to a now-former teammate, who handed the gun to a friend who shot and killed 23-year-old Jamea Jonae Harris. Miller has not been charged with a crime, is not considered a suspect and has cooperated with police, the school has said. Miller’s attorney has said his 20-year-old client does not own a gun and has “never touched the gun” allegedly used in the killing.

That tragedy has loomed over Alabama, which on the field looks the part of a national title contender. Considered one of the nation’s top players and an NBA lottery pick, Miller did not score in Alabama’s first-round win over Texas A&M Corpus Christi while playing limited minutes due to a groin injury. He looked completely healthy against the Terps, but shot 5-for-17.

Alabama leans on its length (three starters are at least 6-foot-9), a high-scoring offensive attack (82.6 points per game) and sound defense. The Crimson Tide plays fast and rushes in front of the opposition with its tendency to shoot a large number of three-pointers. Maryland stifled the Crimson Tide early, but eventually Alabama rolled on.

“They started playing the way they wanted to play,” Young said. “We didn’t really slow them down.”

After the Terps made four straight shots to start the game, they splutter. Reese picked up his second foul less than three minutes later, then his third with 8:50 left before halftime. He did not play the rest of the half.

Maryland made just two of its next 20 shots, and the Terps were bullied around the rim and couldn’t find easy baskets. Maryland went into halftime with a 28-23 deficit thanks to its excellent halfcourt defense and ability to slow down the tempo.

“I feel like we did a good job of competing on both ends,” Young said. “Really just fight, fight, fight them. It just got away from us.”

Young, a senior point guard, powered the Terps through many of their best wins, but in the postseason, opposing defenses contained him. In Thursday’s first-round win over West Virginia, he had a career-high six turnovers. He had a better performance against Alabama, but his 12 points to complement Reese weren’t enough. No one else reached double figures.

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With the loss, Willard’s first season in College Park came to an end. He led the Terps to several marquee victories and an NCAA Tournament berth, far from a guarantee just two months ago.

“If you had told me I was going to play in the second round and inherit five guys on the roster,” Willard said, “I would have told you you’re crazy.”

Maryland hired Willard in hopes that he would rejuvenate the program. Fans who had become frustrated dreamed that the satisfactory results of the past would turn into exceptional performances and that early postseason exits would become extended runs in March. With his ambition to match those expectations, Willard will surely have several years as he works toward that breakthrough.

A win over the Crimson Tide would have been monumental for the program; The Terps have reached the Sweet 16 just once in the last two decades. But the patchwork roster that Willard constructed quickly in the offseason wasn’t enough to match Alabama’s size, athleticism and depth.

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