MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

Maryland’s 73-51 loss to top-ranked and top-seeded Alabama late Saturday night was legit, because Alabama is very legit. But so, too, was Maryland’s 2022-23 season, as will be the seasons to come under head coach Kevin Willard.

Saturday’s game would have certainly been a different game had Terps center Julian Reese not been called for his second foul on such a rinky-dink non-call three minutes into the game because it was an enormous blow for Maryland in how it would play an uphill battle to begin with, as Reese has been Maryland’s best player down the stretch.

“The second foul call (on Reese) was mysterious and even the third one,” Willard told the media after the game. “I played him with two fouls all year. You know, you can’t call that second foul. Not in an NCAA Tournament game. That’s just my feeling on it. I thought it was a horrible call and it changed the outcome of the game. I can elaborate a lot on it but I will probably get in a lot of trouble. I can go in that much trouble or do you want me going in this much trouble? The second call was a terrible foul call. You can’t take our best player out of the game when the game was as physical as it was. It was a horrible call. It changed our whole game plan. We were going to pound it inside, pound it inside. That’s what we have been doing for the last two months of the season.

“We played through Julian. We played at the high post through Julian. We played down low through Julian. He draws fouls. He draws double teams. I mean, he plays — I don’t know where minutes are on this stat sheet. This might be worse than the foul call. So he plays 21 minutes and he’s minus 4. So that just tells you how valuable he was to this game. So, you know, I will continue to play him with two fouls because I trust him. But even the third foul was like, you know, I was thinking, you got to be looking at him and put him on the bench. That’s how I feel.”

Many others have felt that Reese was being looked at too closely for the past month or so by guys in striped shirts. That’s not to say Reese does not have a lot of work to do to lose his propensity to foul; he does, and he has made strides in doing so. Still, the phantom call on his second foul on Saturday was not an unfamiliar sight this season.

That, of course, takes nothing away from Alabama’s performance, its skill level and its deep depth. In fact, it was all on display Saturday night. Just call it a case of the haves against the don’t haves yet.

Maryland’s Donta Scott’s on-going struggles and Alabama’s quickness gave guard Jahmir Young trouble getting looks, just as was the case in the Terps’ first-round win over West Virginia, whose long guards met Young early and trapped him just inside halfcourt.

Maryland needs bigger guards. Alabama was too long, too fast, too quick and too many.

The past two games on the big stage illustrated Maryland’s dire need for more length and athleticism, which everyone knew coming in; and Willard has started to address it with his 2023 recruiting class, which is ranked in the top 20, but he needs more. Maryland needs more, which makes it even more remarkable what was accomplished by this team this season, which actually began less than a year ago (March 21, 2022) when Willard was hired.

“If you had told me I’d be playing in the second round (of the NCAA Tournament) after inheriting five guys on the roster, I would have told you you’re nuts,” Willard said.

“It’s very difficult to move your family. It’s very difficult to leave some place (Seton Hall) that you love very much and come to a new place. These guys made this year absolutely phenomenal. I told them I was proud of them, I loved them and I said thank you.”

Maryland was going to need Scott and Hakim Hart to be at their best in the tournament in order to make a run. They were good against WVU, but combined for seven points against Alabama. Scott was 0-for-7 and Hart 2-for-7. Despite playing just four minutes in the first half, Reese led Maryland with 14 points on 6-for-10 shooting, while Young fought for every one of his 12 points.

Alabama won, 73-51. It was not a blowout, but it was not close, as Maryland shot just 35 percent with only one three-pointer.

Still, 364 days ago, a 22-13 season, including 16-1 at home, and an appearance in the round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament for a Maryland program and everything around it that had fallen sound asleep under Mark Turgeon would have paid you a big pile of cash in Las Vegas.

“They made this by far the best coaching year I’ve ever had,” said Willard.

Said guard Don Carey, who had just played his final game after six years in college, “All year long, we overcame obstacles. Everybody doubted us in the beginning of the year, and we just broke through every wall. This is a super resilient group.

“I think people know that Maryland basketball is back and we’re here to stay.”

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT