BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Maryland men’s basketball saw its season come to a close Saturday, falling by 22 points to No. 1 overall seed Alabama in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Despite the lopsided final scoreline, the Terps fought with the Crimson Tide and kept their deficit under 10 with 13 minutes remaining. Still, it’s Alabama that will continue its season in Sweet 16 and Maryland that was sent home packing.
Here are a few takeaways from Saturday’s game.
Sophomore forward Julian Reese quickly became one of Maryland’s most important players as the home stretch of the season developed. Not only did he become an even more effective player on the court, but he was able to stay on it for longer. For the first half of the season — and perhaps a little bit longer — Reese was one of the most foul-prone big men in the nation. He saw his playing time limited after frequently picking up multiple early fouls and having to sit on the bench for extended periods of time.
That bad habit reintroduced itself again at the worst possible time Saturday. Reese picked up his first and second fouls within a 19-second span early in the first half, and after re-entering later picked up his third with 8:50 to go in the period. He committed his fourth personal foul with 12:13 still on the clock.
Reese was only able to play 21 minutes before he fouled out with 2:24 left.
“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,” Reese said. “And just leave some plays alone, like over-the-back calls and like, just don’t gamble, don’t swipe down on some things. Just got to learn from that and build on it.”
Maryland head coach Kevin Willard pulled no punches when discussing the fouls called on his blossoming star forward, especially the second foul when Reese and Alabama star freshman Brandon Miller got tangled up in the backcourt.
“You know, you can’t call that second foul. Not in an NCAA Tournament game. That’s just my feeling on it. I thought it was a horrible call and it changed the outcome of the game,” he said. “… It was a horrible call. It changed our whole game plan. We were going to pound it inside, pound it inside. That’s what we have been doing for the last two months of the season.”
Maryland did a great job of making Alabama, one of the nation’s highest-paced and talented offenses, uncomfortable early. The Crimson Tide didn’t score their 20th point until over 15 and a half minutes had elapsed, putting them on pace for 51.6 points in the game — 30.3 points fewer than their average of 81.9 points per game.
Even if Maryland had kept that up — and holding Alabama down for that long is a tall, tall task — it would’ve been on the losing end of Saturday’s game. The Terps scored only 51 points themselves, which is 18.3 points less than Alabama’s average of 69.3 points allowed per contest. It was clear that Maryland wanted to slow the game down and limit the number of possessions each team had, but that leaves a slimmer margin for error shooting the ball.
Maryland did not rise up to that challenge, making just 19 of its 54 field-goal attempts, including 10 missed layups. It consistently attempted to force the ball to the interior, but especially with Reese off the floor, it saw little to no success there.
“They are very talented. They are very athletic. And they challenge every shot, so I feel like they did a good job of protecting the rim,” Maryland graduate guard Jahmir Young said.
The Terps also made just one of their eight three-point attempts — usually a good strategy for a team with inconsistent long-range shooting but not nearly as effective without a threat in the post.
It’s natural to feel disappointment in the immediate hours and days following a season-ending defeat. But when Maryland’s fans, players and coaches look back on this season with a macro perspective, they’ll surely do so positively.
The narrative has been beaten into the ground to a point, but it’s true — Maryland overachieved this season relative to preseason expectations.
The Terps checked off almost every box a realistic fan could’ve hoped they would. Willard made his mark on the program in his first season, establishing his preferred style of play, energizing the fanbase and alumni and building some positive momentum for the future.
“I think today is March 18th. I got hired on March 21st [last year]. I told them that these guys have really done an unbelievable job of coming together and turning this program into — getting it going in the right direction,” Willard said of his message to the team after the game. “And it was done with an unbelievable attitude. … 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. I told them I was proud of them, I loved them, I said thank you.”
Now much of the focus of the offseason will turn to roster construction — specifically which players that are eligible to return will. Young and the senior duo of Donta Scott and Hakim Hart all have the option to return and use their extra and final years of college eligibility, but none of them have indicated that they’ve made a decision on that yet. Graduate students Don Carey and Patrick Emilien have both exhausted their college eligibility, so they will not return.
Additionally, as is commonplace in the modern age of college basketball, it is likely that Maryland’s roster will be heavily influenced by transfers, whether they are leaving or joining the squad. No current Maryland player has entered the transfer portal at the time of writing, but it is a near-certainty that some of the holes on the Terps’ roster will be filled by incoming transfers.
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