BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP)In a game that began before lunchtime, Maryland sleepwalked through the first 10 minutes of its NCAA Tournament opener.
Coach Kevin Willard wasn’t concerned.
He knew there was still time for a wake-up call.
Julian Reese and Maryland topped West Virginia 67-65 on Thursday after Kedrian Johnson missed a final heave at the buzzer, sending the eighth-seeded Terrapins into the second round of the South Region.
Maryland (22-12) trailed by 12 early on, but West Virginia didn’t really take advantage of the Terrapins having more turnovers (six) than points (four).
“I look at everything in a positive way,” said Willard, in his first season at Maryland after leading Seton Hall to the Big Dance. “I figured if that’s the best they can do, we’re in pretty good shape.”
Johnson led all scorers with 27 points, only to have his potential winner glance off the rim as the horn sounded.
When the ball was in the air, Johnson thought he was about to become a March Madness hero.
“For sure,” he said. “Every shot I took today, I thought it had a chance to go in.”
Reese had 17 points and nine rebounds for Maryland, which will meet top-seeded Alabama on Saturday. The Crimson Tide cruised past Texas A&M-Corpus Christi 96-75.
The 8-9 matchup between Maryland and the Mountaineers (19-15) lived up to its down-to-the-wire billing.
Maryland bounced back from the early 16-4 deficit to take a 32-30 lead at halftime. Neither team could break away over the final 20 minutes.
“It just shows our character,” said Hakim Hart, who had 15 points in Maryland’s balanced offensive effort. “We’re going to keep fighting.”
A traveling call on Jahmir Young gave West Virginia a chance to tie it with a 3-pointer. But the Mountaineers could not find anyone open beyond the arc, forcing Tre Mitchell to bank it in for two under the basket.
Young was fouled after the inbounds and made only one of two free throws. West Virginia got the ball in the hands of the guy it wanted, but Johnson came up short on the buzzer-beater.
“He was terrific, absolutely terrific,” coach Bob Huggins said. “We wouldn’t have been able to stay in the game without him. That last shot, it looked like it grazed the front of the rim. He was an inch away from winning the game for us.”
FOLLOW THE BOUNCING BALL
Maryland capped a wild play with a huge basket in the closing minutes.
With the score tied at 59, the Mountaineers double-teamed and appeared to have forced a turnover when the ball came loose.
At least four West Virginia players had a shot at it, but they couldn’t pull it in. Finally, the ball wound up in the hands of Reese, who spotted Hart alone under the basket for a dunk with 3:44 remaining.
Maryland never relinquished the lead after that.
West Virginia’s Emmitt Matthews went out early in the second half with a stinger in his left shoulder, the result of a hard screen by Reese.
A stalwart all season for the Mountaineers, Matthews finished with two points and three rebounds in 23 minutes of playing time.
”It hurt us,” Huggins said. “He’s five-year guy that knows what we want to get done. He’s our best perimeter defender.”
Compounding the problem, starting forward Jimmy Bell played only 11 minutes before fouling out. He had no points and four rebounds.
Erik Stevenson played at Wichita State, Washington and South Carolina before finally getting a crack at the NCAA Tournament after transferring to West Virginia for his final season.
It wasn’t a storybook ending. Stevenson scored nine points on 4-of-17 shooting.
“It’s over,” Stevenson said, breaking down in tears. “I don’t know what else to say.”
West Virginia: Huggins was one-and-done in his 26th trip to the NCAA Tournament. He’ll turn 70 in September as he approaches 1,000 career wins and conceded there’s some sentiment to turn over the program to a younger coach. “I have people that say I should stay on for quite a while,” the Hall of Famer said, “and people who think I should pack it in and let some young kid come in and screw it up.” Huggins remains at 935 wins, trailing only Mike Krzyzewski (1,202) and Jim Boeheim (1,015) on the career list.
Maryland: The game came down to a final shot, but the Terrapins won this one with a dazzling close to the first half. They wiped out the double-digit deficit by hitting nine of their last 13 shots, including three beyond the arc, to go along with 7-of-7 perfection at the foul line. More important, the Terps turned it over just two times during that span.
In is last NCAA appearance two years ago, Maryland lost to Alabama in the second round.
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