- The Washington Times
Monday, March 22, 2021

Before the ball had even departed John Petty’s hands, Jahvon Quinerly began running back down the floor, three fingers raised, utterly certain his teammate would sink the shot.

With the way Alabama shot Monday night in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, Quinerly’s confidence wasn’t misplaced. Petty knocked down the trey — one of 16 triples the Crimson Tide hit against Maryland — to send his bench into raptures over Petty’s second three in a 28-second span.

Over the course of two minutes early in the second half, Alabama turned a nine-point lead into a 23-point one, burying any chances the Terrapins had. The No. 2-seeded Crimson Tide steamrolled past No. 10 Maryland, 96-77, to book a trip to the Sweet 16.

“There were no answers tonight,” Terrapins coach Mark Turgeon said. “We really had no answer.”

For Turgeon’s squad, there seemed to be little that could be done. Aaron Wiggins proved he could be the dominant scorer the team needs when it’s in trouble, chipping in 27 points with five long-range makes.

But Alabama hit 48% of its threes and 53% of its shots overall, proving itself as the “fifth No. 1 seed” Turgeon described in the buildup to Monday’s matchup.

Six weeks ago, getting to this point seemed like a far-fetched idea. The Terrapins, though, finished the season strong after a 4-9 start in conference play. They rattled off five straight wins, then beat Michigan State in the Big Ten tournament to secure a place in March Madness following two losses to close the regular season.

“I think we go down in my record books as the grittiest team to ever put that Maryland jersey on,” senior Darryl Morsell said. “I can’t do nothing but applaud these guys.”

Maryland changed its season when Turgeon committed to using a five-out, small-ball lineup with a hard-nose defensive focus. Those mentalities willed the Terrapins past No. 7 UConn in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Alabama was a different story, though. The Crimson Tide have hit more threes than any other team in the country this season, and they showed that propensity often Monday night.

“We weren’t a Final Four team,” Turgeon said. “Come on, let’s be real. I think we maximized this team extremely well, and that’s what I told them. I said, ‘You guys need to walk out of this building with your head up and proud of what you accomplished, because a lot of teams would kill to be where we were.”

The game got away from Maryland in the first half, when Turgeon tried to sneak three substitutions on to give his starters a breather with a minute before the under-12 timeout. But the clock continuously ran without a whistle, leaving those rotation players on the floor for about four minutes.

And during that time, Alabama embarked on a 15-4 run to take control of the first half. Over a six-minute span that turned a seven-point Maryland advantage into a five-point deficit, the Crimson Tide hit four of their eight first-half 3-pointers.

That kind of shooting performance would’ve been difficult for just about any team in the country to keep up with. The Terrapins shot 50% from the field in the first half yet still entered the break down eight points. They tried to keep up with Alabama’s style, attempting 17 treys — the same amount as their opponent — but couldn’t match the 47% rate at which the Crimson Tide’s attempts fell.

“It’s definitely something we haven’t seen before,” Morsell said. “It’s the first team all year to score 90 on us.”

Wiggins’ strong performance kept Maryland close, though, posting 13 points in the opening 20 minutes. Nine of those came from three-point range, and he scored the last 11 points for his team entering intermission — including a drive that featured a behind-the-back dribble and a spin with the clock winding down.

But there seemed to be nothing Maryland could do about Alabama’s scoring pace, ballooning a single-digit deficit at halftime into a 23-point one five minutes into the second half. That’s around when Quinerly raised three fingers before Petty’s long-distance attempted had left his hands.

Because it was just one of those nights. And it ended Maryland’s season — although perhaps later than originally thought.

“We could have quit many times,” Turgeon said. “We could have went a lot of different directions. But we stayed the right direction.”

• Andy Kostka can be reached at akostka@washingtontimes.com.

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