WEST LAFAYETTE — Hakim Hart broke free from Connecticut’s desperate full-court press and slammed home a dunk with 30 seconds remaining that sent the limited Maryland faithful at Mackey Arena into a frenzy.
Moments later, the sophomore guard took a blow to the face that was ruled a charge. He lay on the ground for a moment before jumping to his feet to celebrate exuberantly with his teammates.
“We Want Bama! We Want Bama!” the Maryland crowd chanted with 24 seconds left.
After a 63-54 win over No. 7 UConn on Saturday night, the 10th-seeded Terps are staying in Indianapolis for a Round of 32 matchup with second-seeded Alabama on Monday night in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Tipoff is scheduled for 8:45 p.m. at Bankers Life Fieldhouse and the game will be broadcast on TNT.
“To be 4-9 in [the Big Ten Conference schedule] and now have a win in the NCAA tournament against a really good team, it’s a great night for Maryland basketball,” coach Mark Turgeon said.
Junior guard Eric Ayala led Maryland (17-13) with 23 points, one shy of his career high, including 14 in the first half. Backcourt mate Aaron Wiggins and sophomore forward Donta Scott added 14 and 12, respectively. The Terps shot 51% from the field and made nine of 18 attempts from behind the 3-point line.
“It’s do or die at this point,” Ayala said. “You’ve got to leave it all out there. Empty the tank. I wasn’t ready to go home today. I’ve been having a nice time out here, and just the whole environment is just a special place to be. As a college basketball player, as a child, you dream of being in this environment. And I’m just going to keep dreaming at this point. Just my energy, my intensity, I kind of lead in that way, hoping that guys see my energy and it rubs off on other people.”
Guard James Bouknight, a first-team All-Big East selection, led UConn (15-8) with 15 points on 6-for-16 shooting. The Huskies shot a season-low 32.3% from the field and the Terps held them to a season-low for points.
“I think it was a tough matchup for us,” UConn coach Dan Hurley said. “We struggled against teams that switch a lot. There’s not a script when teams switch. It becomes a matchup ball. And [we] just didn’t have a lot of guys that could really win one-on-one matchups.”
Despite giving up 18 first-half offensive rebounds — including a sequence to start the game in which UConn grabbed four offensive rebounds leading to a made 3-pointer after a pair of missed free throws — Maryland led 33-22 at halftime off the strength of a defense that limited the Huskies to 23% shooting from the field and Ayala’s strong effort. The Terps ended the half on a 15-3 run, while UConn went scoreless over the final 3:38.
Maryland's head coach Mark Turgeon on 63-54 win over No. 7 UConn, at the Mackey Arena. Maryland moves on to the round of 32 and a matchup with Alabama.
Maryland was out-rebounded 40-29 but limited UConn’s second-chance opportunities in the second half, allowing just four offensive rebounds in the final 20 minutes.
“I think the game slowed down a little bit,” Turgeon said. “We guarded the ball better. We adjusted defensively. We changed the things defensively that helped us keep inside position on the boards. And then the guys just said, ‘Enough’s enough, let’s start rebounding.’”
Maryland led by as many as 14 early in the second half, trading makes with UConn, including a sequence that included back-to-back-to-back dunks by Scott, UConn forward Adama Sanogo and Wiggins.
UConn got as close as five, 53-48, after Bouknight found inside leverage for a post score over senior guard Darryl Morsell, with 2:53 left. Morsell (seven points) fouled out for just the second time this season with 1:50 left.
A pair of made free throws by Ayala — a third attempt awarded because of a lane violation — gave Maryland a 55-48 lead with 2:36 left. Ayala later delivered a wraparound pass in the lane to a cutting Hart (six points) for a layup to put the Terps up by eight, 59-51, with 69 seconds left.
With a matchup looming against the Crimson Tide, who pushed through a first-round scare from No. 15 Iona for a 68-55 win, Turgeon said he would turn his attention to a team he called the “fifth No. 1 seed” on the bus ride back to the team hotel. But after a year without the NCAA tournament and the team’s uneven journey back to the postseason, the 10th-year coach wanted to savor the moment.
“Right now it’s enjoy this one,” he said. “Are you kidding me? It’s so hard for us to win. We’re going to enjoy the heck out of this one.”