JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Maryland basketball is moving on in the NCAA Tournament, as the No. 6-seed Terps held off Belmont down the stretch in the Round of 64.
It’s Maryland’s first postseason win since 2016, when an entirely different Terps team reached the Sweet 16. It’s still win-or-go-home, and Maryland now has a date with a talented LSU team on Saturday. But at least for the moment, the Terps have reason to celebrate.
Maryland is both thrilled and relieved.
A loss Thursday would have been the Terps’ fourth in five games to finish the season, and left a promising campaign with no postseason result. But now Maryland doesn’t have to worry about that.
“I’ll tell you what, I feel so lucky just to be a part of a game like that,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “You work your whole life to be a part of it. Any game you can win in this tournament is great, and I’m just so proud of my group. We gutted it out. We just kept battling, we kept battling, we kept battling. We played with great poise offensively. Defensively down the stretch we were just good enough.
“Is my heart rate like I’m sleeping? No. But I just love it. I just love it. It’s so much fun.”
It’s the first win in either the Big Ten or NCAA Tournament for almost everyone on the roster, and point guard Anthony Cowan Jr. was adamant during the week that snapping that drought was his biggest motivation. But earning a postseason win is also huge for Maryland’s freshman class, which now has an impressive achievement to build on.
“Everybody has one postseason win in their career. That’s a big thing,” senior Andrew Terrell said. “Not many people can say they’ve gone to the Round of 64 and advanced to the Round of 32. I think that’s a big deal and I think that’s gonna make this freshman class even more special.”
Jalen Smith’s poster dunk had everyone buzzing.
THAT IS A RIM ROCKER pic.twitter.com/SBuCgqepOs— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 21, 2019
Put this Jalen Smith poster in The Louvre@testudotimes | #MarchMadness pic.twitter.com/TG7p6KsVtx— SB Nation (@SBNation) March 21, 2019
“Darryl got the loose ball, and he just found me and I just went up,” Smith said. “After that, the whole crowd erupted, and you could just feel the energy going through the gym.”
In his NCAA Tournament debut, the five-star freshman dominated inside, tallying 19 points on 8-of-9 shooting. He grabbed 12 rebounds, including a staggering eight offensive boards. His putbacks helped keep Maryland in the game, and while this play didn’t come off his own rebound, it was definitely his loudest second-chance opportunity of the night.
“It’s pretty much just a lot of energy, and when you see Bruno coming in your face with even more energy, it’s just like, ‘Oh, I just did something impressive,’” Smith said. “It was just a great feeling.”
Belmont gave itself a chance at the end, but came up just short.
The Bruins were down four with just over a minute remaining, but Nick Muszynski’s elbow three made it a one-point game. After Cowan missed a floater, Belmont held the ball for one more shot. Head coach Rick Byrd didn’t call timeout, but he had called this play in an earlier timeout, so everyone knew what they were supposed to to. It didn’t work, as Eric Ayala batted a pass and Dylan Windler slipped trying to change directions. But the Bruins don’t have any regrets.
“If you would’ve told me on Sunday night that we’d have a chance to win and advance to the Round of 32, then I’d have been happy to run that [last play] through,” Byrd said.
Windler had 35, easily the most any player has scored against Maryland this season. The 6’8 senior hit 7 of 14 threes and made some plays that the Terps still spoke of with amazement in the locker room. Against Temple, Windler scored just five points but grabbed 14 rebounds and played excellent defense. This time, he contributed much more on the scoresheet.
“I came in with the same mindset in this game—do whatever we could to win,” Windler said. “And it just happened to be scoring tonight, making shots. I saw a few go early and I just tried to stay aggressive and just keep attacking.”
Despite Windler’s 35 and Kevin McClain’s 19, Maryland had just enough. The Terps battled on both ends. They responded every time Belmont went on a run. They took care of the ball, committing just five turnovers. And they played just a little better in the final minute. That’s why they’re advancing.
“They made big plays, winning plays at the end,” Byrd said.