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Maryland reserve guard Varun Ram again comes up big defensively

Baltimore Sun reporter Don Markus talks about Maryland's win over Valparaiso, which advances the Terps to play fifth-seeded West Virginia on Sunday. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun)

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Maryland guard Varun Ram had done it many times before.

He had swiped the ball away from Michigan State's Travis Trice right before halftime of the Big Ten tournament semifinals last Saturday in Chicago. He had picked up a charge from Nebraska's Terran Petteway in Maryland's victory earlier this month in Lincoln.

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Ram has made big plays on defese countless times over the years, going back to when he played at River Hill High in Clarksville and with a local AAU team that won a national championship. He had even done it to teammate Melo Trimble over and over since the now star freshman guard first showed up in College Park.

Since Ram had never played in the NCAA tournament until Friday's game 13th-seeded Valparaiso here at the Nationwide Center, and had not played in the game until the last 13.7 seconds, the stage had never been bigger for the 5-9 former walk-on.

"I was a little surprised [to get in], but coach [Mark Turgeon] has put me in in situations like this before, not in a game this big," Ram said. "He just said, 'Get a stop.' I've been lucky enough to get stops in those situations. I've been very fortunate."

Said Turgeon, "I have confidence in him to do the right thing. He's been with me now three years. So it was pretty easy. If we weren't in as much foul trouble, probably wouldn't have done it but we already had some guys fouled out and things like that. So we did it."

The outcome had never been more important. Ram's strip of Keith Carter as the Crusaders guard tried to hoist a 3-point shot with time was running out helped preserve a 65-62 victory for the fourth-seeded Terps, who will move on to Sunday's third-round to play fifth-seeded West Virginia.

Asked if he got all ball, Ram said, "I think I got it clean."

Carter said after the game that he was fouled -– and television replays showed Ram might have made contact. Considering that the officials had not called the Crusaders for fouling senior guard Dez Wells on the previous possession, it seemed they were not going to let the game end on a controversial foul call.

Ram said he didn't have time to be nervous when Turgeon signaled for him to go in.

"I was so engaged in the game, it was like an adrenalin rush, I just ran in and I was excited," he said.

Turgeon said after the game that he told Ram to foul if one of the guards started "dribbling toward halfcourt." After Evan Smotrycz got through a screen and denied the Valparaiso's leading scorer, forward Alec Peters, from getting the ball, Carter took it and headed for the corner and a 3-pointer.

"I thought us getting through screens and executing defensively was really good really the last 30 seconds of the game and throughout the game," Turgeon said. He probably didn't do it [foul] because he [Carter] was on the side and in the end it worked out for us."

After Smotrycz picked up the loose ball following the strip and time ran out, Ram sprinted up the court and into the arms of fellow senior Jon Graham, who lifted Maryland's smallest player into the air. Ram's 13.7 seconds of fame led to him becoming a trending topic on Twitter.

Ram credited the defense he has to play against Trimble in practice every day for having the confidence to make that kind of steal during a game.

"Melo's made me such a great defender from me having to guard him every single day and me trying to stay in front of him, he should get a lot of credit for preparing me to make such a defensive play," Ram said.

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While most college players dream of having a moment in the NCAA tournament by hitting a big shot, Ram has always tried to make an impact defensively.

"Especially at this level where everyone's so good, being as small as I am, I just play hard, I'm a scrappy player," Ram said.

When reference was made to having his own NCAA tournament moment, Ram flashed a smile.

"I guess so," he said.

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