JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — March basketball is heart-pounding madness. And after a roller coaster of a game, Maryland’s season just ended with a gut punch.
The No. 6-seed Terps fell 69-67 to No. 3-seed LSU on Saturday afternoon. It was back-and-forth all the way down the stretch, and star point guard Tremont Waters broke Maryland’s hearts with a driving layup just 1.6 seconds from overtime.
The Tigers frustrated the Terps throughout the first half, leading by as many as 15 as Maryland’s offense started ice-cold. But after LSU got the margin back up to 15 early in the second half, Maryland made a charge, taking the lead with under six minutes to play. With the score tied late, though, Skylar Mays nailed a three from the wing to put the Tigers in front. Jalen Smith answered back with a triple in the corner, only for Waters to deliver the final blow.
Five Maryland players scored in double figures, led by Smith with a team-high 15 points, along with eight rebounds and five blocks. Aaron Wiggins and Anthony Cowan Jr. added 11 points and two steals each, with Cowan also adding a game-high six assists. Bruno Fernando and Darryl Morsell each chipped in 10, with Fernando grabbing a game-high 15 rebounds.
Mays led the scoring effort for LSU, with a game-high 16, and Naz Reid and Waters added 13 and 12, respectively. Darius Days added 10 points off the bench, and provided the Tigers a first-half spark.
The Terps finished the game shooting just 33.3 percent to LSU’s 36.9 percent. They also led the rebounding battle 42-34, but the free-throw line tipped the scales toward the Tigers, who shot 14-of-16 while Maryland went 16-of-23. Overall, it turned into an even game with one team making one more play.
Maryland got off to its characteristically slow start on offense. The Terps made just five of their first 25 shots and opened the game 1-of-10 from long range. LSU led throughout the first half, but pulled away with a 10-0 run to go up 30-15 at the 5:22 mark. Three-pointers from Wiggins and Morsell brought the Terps within single digits, but LSU worked the lead back up to 15.
In the final minute of the first half, though, Wiggins nailed a pair of threes to slash the margin to nine going into the locker room. After a generally abysmal half of offense, Maryland went into the break trailing just 38-29. Wiggins led all first-half scorers with nine points on his three triples.
Unlike Thursday against Belmont, when the Terps started the second half on a 14-0 run, the lid remained on the basket when the teams switched ends. LSU went up 44-31 to prompt a Maryland timeout at the 16:07 mark. On the ensuing possession, Joshua Tomaic—who was inserted for all of seven seconds—was whistled for a moving screen away from the ball. Turgeon picked up a technical foul arguing the call, and Waters sank the free throws to make it 46-31.
Maryland woke up after that, though. The Terps scored the next eight points, with Cowan nailing two triples, to make it a 46-39 game. LSU answered back, but Maryland kept pace, and a Cowan layup made it 55-51 with under nine minutes remaining. Two Fernando free throws cut it to two with 8:04 left. Smith tied the game with a layup and gave Maryland the lead at the line with 5:52 to go.
The score was tied at 62 with three minutes left and even at 64 entering the final 60 seconds. Mays’ three with 32.5 seconds remaining gave LSU a three-point lead, but Smith answered in the corner with 19.5 seconds left. The Tigers called timeout and held for the last shot, and Waters made the big play.
With that dagger, Maryland’s season is over.
Three things to know
1. This was an incredible tale of two halves. Maryland has been hamstrung by slow starts all season long, so it’s fitting that a dismal offensive half would essentially cost the Terps their season. They started 5-of-25 and had to rally to finish the half 10-of-35 (28.6 percent). Maryland missed open threes, contested threes and a wide variety of layups. In the second half, the offense improved and the defense clamped down on LSU. Maryland took its first lead at the 5:52 mark and gave itself a chance at the end, which didn’t always look probable.
2. Jalen Smith stepped up in the big moment. The five-star freshman forward had an inconsistent season, but shined in the NCAA Tournament. He tossed up 19 points and 12 rebounds in Maryland’s win over Belmont, and led the Terps again with 15 points, eight boards and five blocks Saturday. His corner three was overshadowed by Waters’ dagger, but was an incredible shot nonetheless.
3. That’s a wrap on the season. Maryland finishes its 2018-19 campaign 23-11, and after a disappointing showing in the Big Ten tournament, the Terps went as far as seeding would suggest in the NCAAs. Thursday’s win was Maryland’s first in the postseason since 2016, and probably shut down any serious chatter about Mark Turgeon’s job security. The Terps should return most of their core in 2019-20, although Fernando is likely to turn pro. It ends in heartbreak, but Maryland didn’t go down without an incredible fight.