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.
However, after Howard completed a three-point play for a 42-34 lead, King committed his fourth foul. After one of two free throws bySmith and a jumper by Michigan’s Dugan Fife, Jackson committed his fourth foul as Booth scored to move Maryland within 44-37. With a little less than 18 minutes to play and two Wolverines starters on the bench, Maryland seemed to be in reasonably good shape despite the deficit.
But Michigan again made Smith disappear from Maryland’s offense, and the Terrapins committed turnovers on three of their next four possessions. The Wolverines turned the mistakes into seven consecutive points — four by Howard and three by Rose — and a 51-37 lead. Maryland called a timeout. A little less than 15 minutes remained.
When play resumed, the Terrapins missed a jumper and Howard scored again for a 53-37 lead.
“They do a great job of getting me the ball in places where I can be successful,” said Howard, who hit his last eight shots and all seven he took in the second half.
Maryland finally got a good sign — a three-point goal from reserve forward Mario Lucas, who had made a three-point goal to ignite the huge second-half rally that had carried Maryland past Massachusetts in the second round.
The Terrapins immediately forced a turnover, but Michigan’s Makhtar Ndiaye (Jackson’s replacement) blocked a shot by Johnny Rhodes to prevent Maryland from gaining any momentum.
The Terrapins forced another turnover, but they quickly came unglued. After the turnover, Simpkins missed a three-point try. Howard was called for going over Smith’s back while trying for the rebound, and staged a reasonably animated protest.
But Williams made an even more animated protest while calling for a technical foul against Howard, and referee Larry Lembo called a technical foul on Williams.
The technical was damaging on three fronts. It took possession away from Maryland, gave two free throws and possession to the Wolverines. Rose made the two free throws, and although Michigan didn’t score on the ensuing possession, its lead was 55-40 with 12:20 to play.
During the next 3 1
2 minutes, the Wolverines tacked six more points onto their advantage as King and Jackson returned to the game. Maryland’s season was over.
“In the future,” Rose said, “they will be a dominant team. But tonight we were the more experienced team.”
“We didn’t bend at the end,” said Williams. ”But poor foul shooting hurt us. Michigan also did a good job getting us out of our offense.”
Had it not been for three missed free throws by Booth, who drew two quick fouls from Jackson, and a missed layup by Rhodes, the game would not have been tied at 8 after the first five minutes.
Maryland made it 37-32 with 27 seconds left when reserve guard Wayne Bristol made two free throws after drawing King’s third foul, making him the Wolverines’ second starter in that predicament. But Howard made two free throws with three seconds left, leaving the halftime score 39-32.
“For eight minutes there at the end of the first half and for 15 minutes at the beginning of the second half, we played very well,” Michigan Coach Steve Fisher said. “In other parts of the game, we didn’t play well. We’ll have to play better Sunday.”