Jacksonville, Fla. — In the beginning, the Maryland men’s basketball team had hope for a possible trip home to play in the Sweet 16 at Capital One Arena in Washington.
In the middle, there was a sense of hopelessness, as third-seeded LSU led by as many as 15 early in the second half. But after the sixth-seeded Terps stormed back to take the lead, there was only heartache for coach Mark Turgeon’s team.
After a corner 3-point shot by freshman forward Jalen Smith tied the game with 27 seconds to go, sophomore guard’s Tremont Waters scored on a scoop layup with 1.6 seconds left to give LSU a 69-67 win and a trip to the nation’s capital.
Freshman guard Eric Ayala’s 75-foot heave hit the top of the backboard as the buzzer sounded, leaving he and several of his Maryland teammates in shock and one, Smith, in tears.
The loss ended a turnaround season for Maryland (23-11), which despite playing with the fourth-youngest team in the country and against the eighth-toughest schedule, made it back to the NCAA tournament.
Smith (Mount Saint Joseph) followed up his dominant performance in Thursday’s Round of 64 victory over Belmont with another strong effort, finishing with 15 points, eight rebounds and five blocked shots.
Sophomore center Bruno Fernando, in what many expect to be his last college game before turning pro, added 10 points and 15 rebounds. Sophomore guard Darryl Morsell (Mount Saint Joseph) also scored 10 and fueled Maryland’s comeback. Junior guard Anthony Cowan Jr. and freshman wing Aaron Wiggins each added 11 points.
Junior guard Skylar Mays led LSU (28-6) with 16 points.
In what looked like a sad ending to the Maryland season when the Terps were down double digits in the first half and again early in the second, Turgeon’s team knows that free-throw shooting and turnovers were the difference between completing the comeback and moving on and ending its season. And now they’ll have to wait until next year.