Time seemed to be ticking quickly for the Maryland men's basketball team Sunday night inside Spokane Arena. The game against No. 13 seed Hawaii — and more importantly, what once had been such a promising season — appeared to be slipping away from the fifth-seeded Terps.
Trailing the Rainbow Warriors midway through the second half, Maryland suddenly woke up from what had the makings of another nightmarish loss in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Trailing by three, the Terps scored 19 of the next 22 points, and 14 straight at one point.
It pushed Maryland into the lead, and eventually to its first Sweet 16 in 13 years with a 73-60 victory. The Terps will play top-seeded Kansas on Thursday at the KFC Yum Center in Louisville, Ky. Needless to say, they will have to play a lot better against the Jayhawks to have any chance of an upset.
Despite not shooting well, sophomore point guard Melo Trimble led the Terps (27-8) with 24 points and eight rebounds. He was 5-for-14 from the field, including 1-for-6 from 3-point range. The one he did make from beyond the arc came after Maryland had missed its first 15 3-pointers; it finished 1-for-18 overall.
"We weren't very good at the start. We were nervous, missed shots," Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. "And I told our guys before the tournament started, I said, 'We're going to have a game where we can't miss a shot and we got to defend.' And we did that tonight."
Freshman center Diamond Stone added 14 points, including 10 in the first half. Senior guard Rasheed Sulaimon also scored 14, to go along with four rebounds and three assists. Junior forward Mike Thomas led Hawaii (28-6) with 19 points and 11 rebounds. Junior center Stefan Jankovic, the Big West Conference's Player of the Year, finished with 14 points on 5-for-17 shooting.
"I'll give credit to Maryland's defense," Jankovic said. "It was tough, but we didn't make shots we were supposed to make. We missed a lot of layups, a lot of easy put-backs. They played great defense. Again, I give credit to them, but we missed a lot of layups and shots that we normally make."
Said Sulaimon, who played a big part defensively in Maryland's game-breaking run: "That was a tough team that we played. We just willed through that game. We knew if we stayed to our game plan and continued to play hard, especially on the defensive side, and rebound that we were going to be where we wanted to be."
It was a far different place from where the Terps were a season ago, Trimble in particular.
His performance came a year after he was knocked out of a 69-59 second-round loss to West Virginia with a concussion. Trimble finished the game dazed and depressed at the end of the bench, holding his head.
This time, Trimble walked off with a smile, hugging two of his closest friends on the team, freshman walk-on guard Andrew Terrell and sophomore backup guard Jaylen Brantley. He then fell into a group hug with the rest of his teammates by the bench.
The difference was apparent to Trimble.
"We won; that's the difference," he said after hitting 13 of 14 free throws. "We won, and we didn't overlook this team. We knew it was going to be a strong team. And we won."
Fortunate to be leading 28-27 at halftime after missing all nine of their first-half 3-pointers and appearing more nervous than usual — at one point, Stone pulled down a rebound with only Trimble nearby, then promptly dropped it off his foot and out of bounds — the Terps got off to another shaky start in the second half.
After trading leads early in the second half, Hawaii seemed to gain confidence as Maryland seemed to panic.
"It's confidence. We just wanted to get into the groove of the game so fast, we were so anxious out there," Trimble said. "When we relaxed and played basketball, we pulled out the win."
The Terps kept missing from 3-point range as the Rainbow Warriors scored on a series of momentum-building plays — including one in which senior guard Roderick Bobbitt found Thomas from a prone position after Stone dropped a loose ball. Then Maryland finally started making some game-changing plays of its own.
The run started quietly, with Trimble making one of two free throws and junior center Damonte Dodd rebounding a missed 3-pointer, getting fouled as he hit the put-back, then missing the free throw. But the Terps scored nine straight points in a little over a minute to take control of the game.
After a blocked shot by junior center Damonte Dodd started a fast break, the run began with an alley-oop from Sulaimon to Stone and continued with a dunk by senior forward Jake Layman off a feed from Sulaimon and a 3-pointer by Trimble that forced the Rainbow Warriors to call timeout.
"It felt great," Trimble said. "I keep telling everyone, I'm going to keep shooting. My teammates want me to keep shooting. Coach Turgeon, I know he wants me to keep shooting it. I just got to let it go. That one went in."
It didn't stop the surge, as Layman scored on a runner in the lane. As the lead grew, and the clock ticked away — more slowly, it seemed, than earlier in the game — it became apparent that the 13-year Sweet 16 drought was over.
Perhaps fittingly, the breakthrough came in the same building where many of the same Maryland fans who were here Sunday watched Greivis Vasquez nearly carry the Terps to a comeback win over Michigan State in 2010, only to see Korie Lucious bury a buzzer-beating, game-winning 3-pointer.
This time, there was no last-second shot, just a countdown to a postgame celebration.
"It's a weird feeling," said Layman, the only four-year player on the team, who on Thursday will move to within a game of tying Juan Dixon's school record for career games played (141). "I felt like I'm happy, but at the same time, that we're not done yet."