The third-seeded Wolverines (24-7) will go for their third consecutive Final Four appearance here Sunday in a regional final against top-seeded Arkansas. The Razorbacks advanced with a 103-84 victory over 12th-seeded Tulsa in the other regional semifinal tonight.
“It’s kind of hard to reflect back on it right now,” Maryland sophomore point guard Duane Simpkins said, “but I think we had an extraordinary season. We did the unthinkable in everybody else’s mind.”
The 10th-seeded Terrapins (18-12) will go home disappointed, but hardly disheartened. With a senior-less roster and only freshmen and sophomores among their top eight players, they generally were a preseason choice to finish seventh or eighth in the nine-team Atlantic Coast Conference.
Instead, they finished fifth in the ACC, received their first NCAA tournament bid since 1988, and advanced to the round of 16 for the first time since 1985.
Tonight, however, the Wolverines’ defense — led by junior center Juwan Howard — keyed on Maryland’s star freshman center JoeSmith. The Terrapins did not help themselves by shooting poorly from the free throw line (19-of-36), and they could not take advantage of foul trouble that plagued Michigan starting forward Ray Jackson and guard Jimmy King early in the second half.
Michigan led by 21 points at 66-45 with 8:47 to play, but Maryland made a series of runs and cut the lead to 73-64 with 3:29 left.
Howard then scored a basket before he fouled out with 2:49 left. A basket by Exree Hipp cut the lead to 75-69 with 1:27 to play.
The Terrapins had a chance to draw even closer. But King stole Simpkins’s pass and drove in for a breakaway layup with about 45 seconds left.
“I still felt we had a chance coming down the stretch there,” Maryland Coach Gary Williams said. “We made a great run. It was great to see.”
All five Michigan starters scored in double figures; Jalen Rose had 16 points and Howard 24 points and 11 rebounds.
Smith had 12 points, 14 rebounds and 3 blocks for Maryland while Keith Booth led the Terps with 17 points.
“I played the game that I could tonight,” said Smith. ”Michigan did a good job. They kept the ball out of my hands, and when I did get it, they double-teamed me.”
Michigan held Smith without a field goal on just four first-half shots, and led 39-32 at halftime. The lead was built on a 12-1 rally by Michigan during a six-minute period late in the half during which Maryland missed eight consecutive shots and committed four turnovers. The Terrapins had led 27-25 prior to the run.
But the Wolverines ended the half with King and Jackson each having three fouls.
Maryland went to Smith at the start of the second half, and he responded with a quick basket and then a blocked shot. But the Terrapins couldn’t score after that play or after a five-second violation by Jackson.