BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The Maryland men’s basketball team had a chance at a breakthrough, a win that could have turned Saturday into one of the program’s greatest moments in two decades. But that opportunity was swatted away by the lanky limbs of top-seeded Alabama’s defenders. Hope disappeared, little by little, as the Crimson Tide players took rebounds into their grasp, turning misses into success. And, eventually, a victory was emphatically denied by the athletic bodies that clogged the paint and left the Terrapins nowhere to go but home.
In this NCAA tournament second-round matchup, the Crimson Tide was superior, as its overall No. 1 seed suggests. And Maryland’s roster — lacking the depth, athleticism and surefire NBA talent of Alabama’s — crumbled down the stretch, letting a contest that stayed tight early turn 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 of the eighth-seeded Terps.
Alabama (31-5) marches on to face No. 5 seed San Diego State in a regional semifinal Friday in Louisville. Maryland Coach Kevin Willard can only turn toward his second season in College Park and hope that maybe then his team can generate a tournament run that lasts longer than a weekend.
“It’s a good first step,” he said. “We have a lot more steps that we need 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 hardly attempting shots from deep. (The Terps were 1 for 8 from three-point range.) Maryland’s defense held firm for much of the game, and that kept it from slipping out of reach. But once the Crimson Tide’s advantage ballooned to double digits early in the second half, the game snowballed toward an Alabama blowout.
Reese picked up his fourth foul with 12:12 to go. 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 backups — Patrick Emilien, who played for St. Francis of Brooklyn a year ago, and freshman Caelum Swanton-Rodger — could not keep up with their Crimson Tide counterparts. Reese fouled out in the final minutes, when a Maryland victory was already far out of reach.
Willard described Reese’s second foul — which he committed less than three minutes into the game when he got tangled up with an Alabama player after the Crimson Tide had secured a defensive rebound — as “a horrible call” that “changed the outcome of the game.”
He added: “It changed our whole game plan. We were going to pound it inside, pound it inside.”
The Terps produced promising moments, particularly on the defensive end, but the Crimson Tide always answered. Consider a quick stretch around the time the game began slipping away from the Terps: Hakim Hart grabbed a steal, and Maryland tried to turn it into an easy basket. But Jahmir Young’s jumper got batted away by Brandon Miller, who then hit a three-pointer in transition to give Alabama its first double-digit lead with about 15 minutes remaining. From there, the Crimson Tide never wavered.
Jahvon Quinerly (22 points) hit three-pointers on back-to-back possessions with under four minutes to go, ensuring Alabama would finish with a comfortable margin. And freshman phenom Brandon Miller offered 19 points and seven rebounds before the starters exited to an ovation from a crowd that felt like home.
Miller, the Crimson Tide’s best player, has faced intense security this season because of his link to the January shooting death of a young mother. A detective with the Tuscaloosa police department testified last month that Miller delivered a gun to a now-former teammate, who handed the weapon 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 “never touched” the weapon allegedly used in the killing.
That tragedy has loomed over Alabama, which on the court looks the part of a national title contender. Miller, considered one of the nation’s top players and an NBA lottery pick, didn’t score in Alabama’s first-round win over Texas A&M Corpus Christi while playing limited minutes because of a groin injury. He looked fully 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 storms ahead of the opposition with its tendency to shoot a high volume of three-pointers. Maryland stifled the Crimson Tide early, but eventually Alabama rolled on.
“They started playing how 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 sputtered. Reese picked up that second foul less than three minutes in, then his third with 8:50 to go before halftime. He didn’t 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 made it to halftime with a 28-23 deficit thanks to its excellent half-court defense and ability to slow the pace.
“I feel like we did a good job of competing on both ends,” Young said. “Really just fighting, fighting, fighting 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 six turnovers, tying a career high. He had a better performance against Alabama, but his 12 points to complement Reese were not enough. Nobody else reached double digits.
With the loss, Willard’s first season in College Park reached its end. He led the Terps to several marquee wins and an NCAA tournament berth, far from a guarantee just two months ago.
“If you had told me I’d be playing in the second round, inheriting five guys on the roster,” Willard said, “I would have told you you’re nuts.”
Maryland hired Willard hoping he would rejuvenate the program. Fans who had grown frustrated dreamed that the satisfactory results of the recent past would turn into exceptional performances and that early postseason exits would become extended runs in March. With his ambition matching those expectations, Willard surely will be given several years as he works toward that breakthrough.
A win over the Crimson Tide would have been monumental; the Terps have reached the Sweet 16 just once in the past two decades. But the patchwork roster that Willard constructed quickly in the offseason wasn’t enough to match Alabama’s size, athleticism and depth.