BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The start could’ve hardly gone better for West Virginia in Thursday’s NCAA Tournament opener against Maryland, although the finish to the game proved far more important.
The Mountaineers made only three field goals over the final 8:59 and squandered an eight-point second-half lead in a 67-65 loss to the Terrapins at Legacy Arena.
A last-second heave from Kedrian Johnson from just beyond the three-point line fell short, sending West Virginia home and Maryland into the second round, where top seed Alabama awaits.
“We were careless with the ball,” WVU coach Bob Huggins said following the loss. “They made shots and we didn’t match up very well.”
West Virginia jumped out to a 19-6 lead to begin the game, forcing six turnovers on Maryland’s first eight possessions. The Mountaineers held Maryland to four points through 8-plus minutes.
Basketball is a game of runs, and Maryland picked up on its first-half run after trailing 13, the largest lead WVU had. After going more than 8 minutes without a field goal, the Terrapins used a 16-2 spurt to get back into the game and take their first lead.
“We took advantage of being behind,” said Maryland’s Julian Reese, who led the Terrapins with 17 points and nine rebounds. “We came out and everyone had butterflies. We adjusted well.”
Shots started to go down for the Terps’ top scorer Jahmir Young, who finished in double figures with 10. A three from Hakim Hart, who scored 15, followed by a Young triple, put the Terps on top, 22-21.
West Virginia (19-15) would respond and swap the lead with Maryland (22-12) a few times in the latter stages of the opening half.
The Terps closed out the final 10 minutes of the first half by outscoring the Mountaineers, 26-11, and Maryland took a 32-30 lead into the locker room.
West Virginia started the second half similar to how it started the game. A 14-6 scoring run before the first media timeout included two and-1 conversions from Johnson, followed by a four-point play. Johnson scored 13 points in the opening 5-plus minutes of the second half.
Johnson finished with a game high 27 points for the Mountaineers. He went 4 of 8 from three-point land and a perfect 7 of 7 at the free throw line.
“Every shot I took today I thought had a chance of going in,” Johnson said.
During Johnson’s scoring surge, the Mountaineers took a nine-point lead into the first media timeout
West Virginia led 51-43 before five straight points from Reese cut the Mountaineers’ lead to three. Hakim Hart’s layup moments later made it nine straight points for Maryland and gave the Terrapins a 52-51 advantage.
A key three from Donta Scott tied the game at 59 after Erik Stevenson had hit one of his own to give the Mountaineers the lead, and Hart’s dunk with 3:44 left broke a 59-all tie.
Reese threw down a dunk not long after that left WVU trailing by five.
West Virginia trailed by three with the ball and inside 30 seconds remaining. After using up all but 8 of those seconds, Tre Mitchell scored near the rim for a 66-65 deficit.
Young then split two free throws and Johnson’s running attempt from behind the arc missed as time expired, sealing the Mountaineers’ fate for the season.
“I’m more excited for the kids than I am for me,” Maryland head coach Kevin Willard said after the game. “This group has really come together.”
Donald Carey added three threes for all nine of his total points.
The Terps forced 12 turnovers and outsocred WVU in the paint, 34-24
Meanwhile, Mountaineer fifth-year senior forward Emmitt Matthews Jr. missed a significant amount of time in the half with a stinger he suffered early in the second half. Matthews scored the game’s first two points but never again and attempted only three shots. He sat for an extended second-half stretch after suffering the injury.
Stevenson scored only nine points in 4-for-17 shooting.
“It’s over. I don’t know what else to say,” Stevenson said with some emotion. “It didn’t finish off like I wanted it to, but I’m just happy I got to end my career in the tournament I guess.”