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No. 10 Maryland men’s basketball can’t keep up with No. 2 Alabama, is eliminated from NCAA tournament with 96-77 loss

Terps' senior Darryl Morsell talks about having surgery very soon and not yet sure about his future for next season.

INDIANAPOLIS — As the Alabama men’s basketball team drained 3-pointer after 3-pointer early in the second half, the limited crowd at Bankers Life Fieldhouse felt more like the pro-Crimson Tide crowd it appeared to be, with “Roll Tide” and all sorts of chants filling the arena.

Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said after his team’s Round of 64 win over Connecticut that his players had overachieved in a season in which the Terps were picked to finish in the bottom half of the Big Ten Conference.

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It looked that way Monday night, as 10th-seeded Maryland bowed out of the second round of the NCAA tournament in a 96-77 loss to No. 2 seed Alabama, a team that Turgeon called the “fifth No. 1 seed” in the 68-team field.

The Crimson Tide, who attempted the third-most 3-pointers in college basketball this season, made 16 of 33 attempts from long range. Maryland shot 53% from the field and made 10 of 27 attempts from beyond the arc but couldn’t keep up with a team that averages close to 80 points per game. Alabama’s 96 points are the most any opponent has scored this season against Maryland, which entered Monday allowing 64.6 per game.

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“We had no answers tonight. We really had no answer,” Turgeon said.

Early on, the Terps looked to be riding the confidence from their opening-round victory, making seven straight shots to take an 18-12 lead six minutes into the game.

But Turgeon, who has utilized an eight-man rotation for most of the season, brought in all three of his subs — senior forward Galin Smith, junior forward Jairus Hamilton and senior guard Reese Mona — for senior guard Darryl Morsell, sophomore forward Donta Scott and sophomore guard Hakim Hart at the 13:00 mark.

Maryland (17-14) looked disjointed in the new lineup as Alabama (26-6) went on a 15-4 run to take a 27-22 lead. Turgeon subsequently called timeout and reinserted his starters, but the Crimson Tide had already seized control.

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Alabama led by as many as 11 in the first half and 46-38 at halftime, making eight of 17 attempts from 3-point range in the first half. Maryland was not far behind in the first 20 minutes, shooting 50% from the field and six of 17 on 3-pointers.

A 14-0 run in less than two minutes, which included four consecutive 3s, pushed Alabama’s second-half lead to 65-42. Each long-range shot seemed to sap more of Maryland’s energy, and the 23-point lead was the Tide’s largest of the game.

“I think it kind of took our mojo a little bit when they just kept making them,” Turgeon said. “The start of the second half, it just felt like everything they threw up went in.”

The Terps’ deficit never dropped below 16 in the second half as an equally athletic and deeper team outmanned a rotation that was mainly limited to six players — the starters and Hamilton — in the second half.

When asked how Maryland’s thin rotation hurt its ability to keep up with Alabama’s fast-paced style, Turgeon said: “We are who we are. Certain teams, we can match up with and really guard and figure out how to win games. And certain teams that were elite, like Alabama was tonight, was tough for us. So, yeah, we couldn’t sub. I subbed in that first half and the game got away from us.”

Alabama made 16 three-pointers for the game and lead by as much as 23, while the Terps' had no answer for the Tides' long-range shots.

Aaron Wiggins scored a career-high 27 points to lead Maryland, while fellow junior guard Eric Ayala added 13, Scott chipped in 12 and Morsell, who could have played the final game of his college career, finished with 10.

The NCAA has extended an extra year of eligibility to winter-sport athletes because of the coronavirus pandemic. When asked what his timeline would be for making a decision on a fifth year, Morsell, a Baltimore native and Mount Saint Joseph graduate, said he would first turn his attention to surgery on the shoulder injury, which he revealed is a fractured labrum, that he played through for much of the season.

“After that, I’m just taking it day by day. I really can’t tell you,” he said of whether he would return for a fifth season.

The Terps experienced emotions on both ends of the spectrum — the angst of starting 1-5 in conference play to the thrill of an opening-round win in the NCAA tournament — in a trying season for all college basketball teams. Turgeon said he would remember this year’s team for its sacrifices, from doing what was required off the court to play a season during the coronavirus pandemic to embracing a style that forced players out of position and in undersized lineups on the court.

“It’s the grittiest group of guys I ever played basketball with,” Morsell said.

After a lost tournament last year with a team that had the talent to reach the Final Four, Turgeon and the basketball program enter another season at a bit of a crossroads. He has previously said he anticipates the majority of his core will return, but Morsell could elect to bypass a fifth year. Wiggins finished the final month of the season playing like the potential NBA player he was billed to be upon his arrival to College Park. A pair of four-star recruits will join early-enrollee James Graham III, but Turgeon will likely turn to the transfer portal to round out a unit that lacked depth all season.

And at the top of the list will be questions about Turgeon’s future with the program and a contract that has just two more years left on the deal. But as his 10th season at Maryland came to an end, Turgeon reflected on a group that he said will hold a “special place in my heart as I grow older.”

“It’s a team that I’m going to be really proud of and it’s the building blocks, hopefully, for a better season next year,” Turgeon said. “We could have went the other way. It’s easy to go the other way. We didn’t do it. We kept fighting. And [I’m] just really proud.”

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