No. 10 seed Maryland men’s basketball was knocked out of the NCAA Tournament Monday night, falling 96-77 to No. 2 seed Alabama in the Round of 32.
The Terps couldn’t slow down a red-hot Crimson Tide team to have their season ended in blowout fashion.
Here are my three biggest takeaways from the defeat.
Maryland was burned on the defensive end
The Terps had built their identity on the defensive end of the floor this season. Heading into Monday night’s contest, Maryland had allowed 61.0 points to its opponents per game over its last 10. However, that defense didn’t step up to the task against Alabama.
The Crimson Tide’s 16 three-pointers were the most Maryland gave up all season and the 96 points were the most the program had allowed in regulation since Feb. 3, 2009, when it allowed 108 points to North Carolina.
“It’s no fun, especially for the last eight or nine weeks, we’ve been able to guard everybody but Michigan and maybe Ohio State at home, we’ve been able to guard pretty well,” Turgeon said. “There was no answers tonight. We really had no answer.”
Normally, if a team were to score 77 points, shoot 53.3% from the floor and 37% from deep with just eight turnovers, as Maryland did, a victory would come hand in hand. The Terps had one of their best offensive performances of the season, much in part to the stellar play of Wiggins, but it wouldn’t matter as the Crimson Tide were unstoppable on the other end.
Alabama shot 53% from the floor, but made the difference with three more field goals and 16 triples compared to 10 from the Terps. The No. 2 seed also killed Maryland on the boards, grabbing 15 offensive rebounds for 23 second chance points. Maryland only had 18 rebounds total, compared to 40 from its opponent, marking the team’s lowest since Feb. 8, 2015 against Iowa. And the Crimson Tide got to the charity stripe and took advantage, making all 10 of their attempts there.
Simply put, the Terps were heavily outplayed as their defense crumbled against a dominant Alabama squad.
“It’s definitely something we haven’t seen before,” Morsell said. “They have great spacing on their drives. They look to attack mismatches. They found a rhythm. We got out early and then they found their rhythm, started hitting shots, and never stopped missing shots. So just a credit to them, credit to their culture and how they play. They are really good.”
The Terps’ lack of depth hurt them
Much of why Alabama was able to dominate is because the team plays a super fast style on the court, allowing it to score in bunches in a heartbeat. Coming into the contest, the team ranked second in the country in adjusted offensive tempo.
Boasting a deep bench, the Crimson Tide are able to play that style with ease, with head coach Nate Oats subbing players in and out frequently so they don’t get too tired. That remained true Monday night, as eight Alabama players saw at least 16 minutes on the court and nine different players scored — the bench combined for 39 points.
The same certainly couldn’t be said for Maryland. Forward Jairus Hamilton was the only rotation player who saw more than five minutes of the court, going 25 minutes on the court for five points and three rebounds. He had the lowest plus/minus if any Terp at -26. The Maryland bench totaled just nine points, which includes a bucket from sophomore center Chol Marial in garbage time.
Maryland was up 18-12 with a little over 13 minutes left in the first half when Mark Turgeon decided to sub out Darryl Morsell, Hakim Hart and Donta Scott for the likes of Galin Smith, Jairus Hamilton and Reese Mona.
“There wasn’t a dead ball until almost the 13-minute mark and our guys were tired. That’s why I did it,” Turgeon said. “I probably should have called timeout earlier, but I didn’t. You’ve got to play your guys. I mean, only got a few of them. Gotta play them, gotta give them a chance.”
Alabama head coach Nate Oats had already been able to make some changes of his own, so at that time he was able to bring starters John Petty Jr. and Juwan Gary back into action, along with Alex Rojas, to allow Herb Jones Jr., Jordan Bruner and Jaden Shackelford to get some rest. He elected to bring in Alex Reese off the bench shortly after.
The game quickly slipped out of grasp from the Terps as the Crimson Tide went on a 15-4 run in 4:28 to take a 27-22 lead before Turgeon took his rotation players out. Maryland trailed the rest of the way.
“It was kind of weird that we made the run without Herb because he’s an integral part of what we do,” Oats said. “But I thought guys stepped up.”
Alabama continued to roll over Maryland with its fast paced offense throughout the contest as the Terrapin starters ran out of gas early, even going on a 14-0 run in less than three minutes in the second frame.
“We couldn’t sub. I subbed in that first half and the game got way from us,” Turgeon said. “And guys got tired.”
This Maryland team outperformed expectations this season
The Terps weren’t expected to win this game. They weren’t expected to make the Round of 32. They weren’t even expected to make the NCAA Tournament.
Maryland didn’t have a true point guard or center after losing the star duo of Anthony Cowan Jr. and Jalen Smith, and the team also lost key rotation players in Ricky Lindo Jr., Joshua Tomaic and Serrel Smith Jr. Donta Scott, who is 6-foot-7, was asked to play the five spot despite coming into the program to play as a three or four, while Hakim Hart took over at point guard.
“This team wasn’t supposed to be here. You put us on paper, you ask anybody, we’re not supposed to be here, man. But we here,” senior guard Darryl Morsell said. “We kept fighting. Coach Turgeon did a phenomenal job this year with this group of guys. He made us better and he brought the best out of every single one of us.”
The Terps started the season 4-9 in Big Ten play and looking out of contention for an NCAA Tournament bid, though they did manage some major upsets over the likes of Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota, who were all ranked at the time.
As head coach Mark Turgeon has pointed out several times in recent weeks, the team could have continued to plummet, but players instead chose to push for a five-game win streak to secure a spot in March Madness.
Forced to play a small ball lineup in a conference filled with some of the best big men in the country, Maryland built an identity centered around toughness and defense, finding ways to excel at shutting down opponents to secure victories.
And though that defense was nowhere to be seen in a brutal loss Monday night, the Terps still managed to shock the country by upsetting No. 7 seed UConn in the first round of the tournament. Though it might seem like a letdown compared to the 2019-20 Big Ten regular season co-champions, Maryland vastly overachieved what is was meant to do this season.
“I’ll always remember this team for what they went through and how hard we fought. And we could have quit easily and never did,” Turgeon said. “And we were able to play in this game — Didn’t play well, but we were able to be in a final 32 game with a chance to play in the Sweet 16 when it was a rebuilding year.”