The NCAA men’s basketball tournament is nicknamed ‘March Madness’ for a reason.
Most of the games come down to the wire, and on Saturday afternoon in Jacksonville, Florida, a back-and-forth nail-biter went LSU’s way in a narrow 69-67 defeat over the Terrapins.
The sixth-seed Terps fell 69-67 to the third-seed LSU Tigers when sophomore point guard Tremont Waters broke Maryland’s hearts with a contested underhand layup just 1.6 seconds away from the end of regulation.
TREMONT WATERS FOR THE WIN!
— SB Nation (@SBNation) March 23, 2019
After trailing by as many as 15 points in both halves, Maryland battled back to gain its first lead of the contest with 5:52 left on a free throw made by the freshman, Jalen “Stix” Smith.
The score was tied at 62 with three minutes left and was knotted up again at 64 entering the final minute of play. LSU junior guard Skylar Mays gave the Tigers a three-point lead with 32.5 seconds remaining before Smith answered with a corner triple to tie the score at 67 with 19.5 seconds left.
The Tigers called a timeout before drawing up the final play as Waters’ driving layup sealed the Terps fate and denied Maryland a chance to play a Sweet Sixteen game back in Washington, D.C.
Maryland has struggled all season to get off to hot starts in the first half, and Saturday’s contest was no different. The Terps made just five of their first 25 shots from the floor, which included a 1-10 start from three-point range.
Despite the poor shooting start, the Terps hung around and never let the Tigers lead grow to more than 15 points. A 10-0 LSU run pushed its advantage to 30-15 with 5:22 left in the opening half.
Three-point baskets courtesy of freshman guard Aaron Wiggins and sophomore guard Darryl Morsell brought the Terps back to within single digits before the Tigers pushed their lead back to 15 points, up 38-23.
In the final minute of the first half, Wiggins gave the Terps some momentum heading into the locker room after nailing a pair of triples to lead all first-half scorers with nine points, all coming courtesy of the three-point variety, as Maryland trailed 38-29 at the half.
Tale of Two Halves
Maryland Head coach Mark Turgeon’s halftime speech worked in the Terps opening round win over Belmont when Maryland started the second half on a 14-0 run, but against the Tigers, the Terps run didn’t come until a little later in the half.
Turgeon was forced to call a timeout with 16:07 left to play when LSU went up 44-31.
Out of the timeout, redshirt sophomore Joshua Tomaic was inserted for a set play to employ a screen to free Wiggins for a triple. Wiggins nailed the shot, but Tomaic was whistled for a moving screen which resulted in a turnover.
Turgeon picked up a technical foul arguing the call, and Waters sank the free throws to make LSU’s lead match its largest of the game at 46-31.
Sometimes a coach has to do something to wake up his squad, and the Terps responded after the technical on their coach by scoring the game’s next eight points behind a pair of junior guard Anthony Cowan Jr. triples to cut the deficit to seven at 46-39.
The Terps kept pace with the Tigers the rest of the way as both clubs wrestled back-and-forth for the lead until Waters ended Maryland’s comeback hopes in the waning seconds.
Smith scored a team-high 15 points to go along with eight rebounds and five blocks. He was one of five Maryland players to score in double figures.
Wiggins and Cowan Jr. added 11 points each, Morsell finished with 10, and sophomore big man Bruno Fernando added 10 points and a corralled a game-high 15 rebounds.
The Terps out-rebounded LSU 42-34, shot 33.3 percent and missed seven free throw attempts (16-23) compared to just two misses at the charity stripe for the Tigers (14-16).
This loss will sting for the Terps who missed an opportunity to make the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2016, but with only two seniors graduating who played sparingly an abundance of talent returns.
— Maryland Basketball (@TerrapinHoops) March 23, 2019
The biggest question surrounding the program in the next few months will be if Fernando and Smith declare for the NBA draft or decide to return to school. Fernando seems more likely to leave, but both declined comment on their NBA futures after the loss.
The Terps finished the year with an overall record of 23-11 and played with heart and fought until the final horn. As fans, that is all we can ask for.