Kevin Willard won his first NCAA Tournament game as a Maryland coach.
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – It started and ended with free throws from Jahmir Young.
Maryland had not scored in seven minutes and 39 seconds. It trailed 12 in the first half as Jahmir Young worked his way to the brim and earned a few shots from the line. He drained both, leading to a courageous comeback.
With just 4.7 seconds left to play, Young was fouled again, this time taking his team’s lead and a chance to extend the lead to three. The first – swing. The second – no luck.
West Virginia grabbed the rebound and ran down the field. A two would tie it and a three would win it.
The ball landed in the red-hot hands of Kedrian Johnson. The fifth-year guard snatched the ball, took two steps past halfway, and sent it flying for the win. It hung in the air for eternity, sailing toward the hoop with the potential to both advance the Mountaineers and send the Terps home.
Johnson had already scored 17 points in the second half. He was the man West Virginia wanted to get their hands on. But his shot was short. Maryland survived and moved forward, the mantra of the NCAA Tournament.
Eighth-seeded Maryland defeated ninth-seeded West Virginia 67-65 on Thursday to advance to the round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament.
Playing in the first game of the first round of the NCAA Tournament is a privilege and a curse. Television sets across the country are all tuning in to the same game at the same time, ready to kick off one of the most action-packed days on the American sports calendar.
Before nine minutes had passed, they were out. It was ugly.
In its first eight possessions, Maryland had flipped the ball five times. It trailed 16-4 and hadn’t made a shot in what felt like forever—the field goal drought lasted eight minutes and 28 seconds, to be exact. West Virginia had scored the last 14 points.
Because of the turnover, Maryland couldn’t take any shots let alone score. When Julian Reese hit a floater to end the no-field-goal streak, it was the Terps’ eighth shot in the first half. West Virginia had taken 16.
With shots taken comes the ability to press, and with that comes disruption. Maryland kicked the full-field pressure into gear as the shots started to fall and a game that was about to run away became a lot more interesting.
A switch flipped. Maryland exploded on a 16-2 run. It took five of six shots, capped by a Jahmir Young three that pushed the Terps into the lead with just over six minutes left in the half.
From there it went back and forth for the first half. When the buzzer sounded, Maryland somehow led 32-30.
As the second half began, West Virginia came out hot again, much hotter than the Terps.
There is a popular expression among college basketball fans that guards win in March. It is even better to have experienced guards. On Thursday, West Virginia had the best of both worlds with Johnson.
He bullied his way to the edge and converted after a layup while being fouled. The next property – the same. Next on the field, it was a four-point game after clearing a three with contact. Johnson went all alone on a 10-0 run to fuel the Mountaineers and extend their lead to a whopping nine.
But the Terps again refused to stop and forced themselves back on top despite missing Young, who was benched after sustaining his fourth foul of the game for an extended period. When West Virginia forward Jimmy Bell Jr. fell out of the game, Maryland made a concerted effort to get the ball low.
Due to West Virginia’s lack of domestic presence, Reese began taking over the game. He tallied a total of 13 points for the team in the last 20 minutes of the game, also picking up seven boards in that span. He finished the game leading the Terps in both categories with 17 points and nine rebounds.
Both teams were beset by foul trouble on Thursday, and the calls piled up in the second half. They were both in the bonus just over half way through the period and a total of 38 free throws were shot in the game.
Four Terps finished with at least 10 points: Reese, Young (10) and the senior tandem of Donta Scott and Hakim Hart, both of whom provided valuable minutes and made clutch plays throughout the stretch to help lift their team to victory in a do- or – dying situation.
Three things to know
1. No Young, no problem. Jahmir Young had great difficulty creating his usual division against West Virginia’s physical guards. He made only one field goal and scored seven of his 10 points at the free throw line. He also had to sit on the bench for a while when he picked up his fourth offense, with head coach Kevin Willard opting to put Jahari Long in the game.
2. The little things. As is the case with close games, rush plays were the difference on the trajectory. The Terps battled for 50/50 balls in the waning minutes of the game, most notably a big rebound from Scott after his own shot had less than 40 seconds left on the clock.
3. Now What? Maryland will face the winner of the game between No. 1 seed Alabama and No. 16 seed Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Saturday with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line. The Crimson Tide are one of the favorites to win the National title, so Willard and his staff will get to work scouting the top overall in the tournament to try and beat the massive upset.