It sure was fun while it lasted.
Less than 24 hours after dismantling second seeded Duke, the Maryland Terrapins were unable to pull off the Tobacco Road two-step and fell to the third seeded North Carolina Tar Heels 79-76 in semifinal action in the ACC tournament.
At the end of the game, the Terps had their chance to force extra time but a Logan Aronhalt three point attempt fell short and Carolina was able to play keep away in the waning seconds to secure the win. They will move on to play top-seeded Miami in the tournament final tomorrow afternoon.
At the beginning of the day it appeared that the Terps would have to win this game to be invited to the NCAA tournament next week and that may well end up being the case when pairings are announced tomorrow night. They did, however, receive a little help when the tournament hopes of Southern Miss and Alabama were crushed with losses in their respective conference tournaments.
While they didn’t lock themselves into anything, the Terps did acquit themselves quite nicely and will definitely be playing somewhere next week, whether it’s on campus at the Comcast Center in the NIT or in a sub-regional round in the NCAAs.
For a young team that just now appears to be finding itself, that is no small thing.
The Maryland roster is almost completely different than it was last year and they were still able to win 22 games, beat Duke twice (including once in North Carolina) and play their best basketball in March when it’s needed most. After the game, Maryland coach Mark Turgeon commented that a month ago he wasn’t sure how much longer he wanted the season to last but the growth he saw over the course of that last month made him wish there are still meaningful games left for his team to play.
Because of the mental and physical energy spent in the Duke win, the Terps started very slowly in this game and the Heels were quick to capitalize. Only Terp center Alex Len seemed to have any success in the first ten minutes as Carolina burst to a 24-12 lead.
The Terps started to peck away from that point. Nick Faust nailed back to back threes to cut the lead in half and give the team a little spring in its step. From that point, the first half lead stayed in that range and when freshman Charles Mitchell finished off a tough three point play with seven seconds to play he cut the lead to 37-32.
I’m sure Turgeon and his players were ecstatic to be that close at the break.
Unfortunately the second half started just like the first and a 10-3 Carolina run to open the half put the lead back to a dozen at 47-35. Points were very hard to come by for the Terps in early stages of the second half just as they had been early on in the first and Carolina led comfortably 58-45 with just over 11 minutes remaining.
To that point Maryland had never really been able to catch fire at all and it seemed that the task of trying to win their third big game in as many days had taken its toll.
Just as a lot of the packed house started to think a Maryland run was unlikely, they responded with several but just couldn’t get over the top. First, Len and wing Dez Wells keyed a Terp run to cut the lead to 60-57 with 8:46 left. Carolina answered with two long three pointers by Leslie McDonald and Reggie Bullock for a ten point cushion.
Still, the Terps would not go away. They were able to grind out a slow, methodical run and when Len scored off a Wells assist the lead was down to one at 71-70 with just over three minutes remaining.
In those last three minutes UNC made just enough plays to survive. Freshman point guard Marcus Paige hit two huge baskets and they hit just enough free throws to keep the Terps at bay. When Carolina guard PJ Hairston missed a free throw with 16 seconds left he gave Maryland one last chance with the score 79-76 but Aronhalt came up short.
As maddening as this team was during stretches of the season, its transformation and growth over the last few weeks was nothing short of remarkable.
As Turgeon himself said after the game, “sometimes the wins have nothing to do with the score”.
We’ll see what happens tomorrow night.