LOUISVILLE, KY. — Despite the fact that Maryland went to its first NCAA tournament Sweet 16 in 13 years, many will judge the Terps on where they started from this season rather than where they finished.
Despite winning just one fewer game than a year ago, many will look at Mark Turgeon's team as underachievers that went from the brink of the school's first No. 1 ranking to barely staying in the top 20 by season's end.
That's just not the way Turgeon and his players want to reflect on the past few months – now or going forward.
It seems that the fifth-seeded,18th-ranked Terps will ignore their critics and choose to take the good memories out a 27-9 season that ended with a 79-63 loss to top-seeded and No. 1 ranked Kansas on Thursday here in the South Regional semifinals.
On Saturday, Kansas (33-4) will play No. 2 seed Villanova (29-5), which crushed No. 3 seed Miami, 92-69.
"Not a lot of teams made it to the Sweet 16," sophomore point guard Melo Trimble said in the team's quiet dressing room at the KFC Yum! Center early Friday morning, following the late-night game."I think it's a positive that we made it this far."
Still, Trimble didn't seem surprised at the way the second half turned out for the Jawhawks, who opened their lead with a 9-0 run early in the second half and pulled away for their nation's best 17th straight victory.
"We knew they were going to hit shots, they didn't make any shots really in the first half," Trimble said. "We knew they were a good rebounding team and it showed toward the end of the game when they outrebounded us [43-28]."
With Maryland trailing 36-34 at halftime and staying close to even on the boards (21-20 in favor of the Jayhawks), Trimble said the second half gameplan was simple. And virtually ignored.
"Keep defending, keep rebound[ing], we didn't do either of those, we missed shots that we normally make," said Trimble, who finished with 17 points on 5-for-16 shooting. "It's been like the whole season, we couldn't make any open shots. It happens. That was the game."
Asked if the first half was as good as Maryland could play, junior forward Robert Carter Jr. said, "I don't know if it was the best we can play, but it was good enough to keep us in the game and go on a run in the second half. But they got a lead and controlled the pace and the tempo and the game got away from us."
Said senior forward Jake Layman, "I guess the first half was positive, the second half just didn't go our way. The ball wasn't bouncing our way. The shots that we normally make didn't go in tonight. And that happens. They're a great team.. We just beat tonight."
Turgeon said that the perimeter defense Kansas played on his team's guards was the difference in the game.
"I thought all three of their guards really guarded, including [Wayne] Selden," Turgeon said. "And those two little guards are quick. So I thought they were terrific with that. I thought we got a few good looks to start the second half and we missed them, then we missed four free throws in a row. It was a six-point game at the time." "
Trimble, who missed an open 3 that would have cut the lead to three points, said "If I was able to knocked down a couple of those shots, it mght have been a different game."
The gameplan for Kansas was also pretty straightforward. Pound the ball inside to senior forward Perry Ellis, who finished with 15 of his game—high 27 points in the second half. Junior guard Wayne Selden also finished with 19 points, seven rebounds and six assists.
Junior center Damonte Dodd credited all-Big 12 defensive guards Frank Mason III and Devonte' Graham with clamping down on Trimble and Rasheed Sulaimon in the second half. After keeping the Terps close for more than a half, combining for 22 points in the first half, Trimble and Sulaimon had half that in the second half.
"Everything starts with our guards with the ball in their hands," Dodd said. "They did a very good job of denying and just getting in the way our guards from doing anything. It was tough for them."
It will now get tougher for Trimble and Carter as they contemplate the future along with freshman center Diamond Stone. All of them are expected to put their names into the NBA draft, and can withdraw from consideration by May 25 if they haven't signed with an agent.
For now, they will reflect on what might have been.
"We had so many new [players], it's tough to be effective at both ends," Trimble said. "It's just tough having one year to accomplish everything and get better in one season. I feel like if we had two years together, we'd be reaching our goals and make it far in the tournament. Like I said, the sky's still the limit if we had another chance."
Senior guard Rasheed Sulaimon, whose arrival last summer after being kicked out of Duke last January proved to be the most important addition for the Terps this season, said that bringing in the kind of talent Maryland had this season have been too much to overcome when it came to chemistry and spacing the floor.
"Individually we have immense talent, it's so hard to bring so much talent together and let it flow and be one," said Sulaimon, who scored 18 points in his last college game. "I thought coach did a tremendous job. We were turning the corner....there's no telling how good we could have been."