Jalen Smith's freshman season has been the picture of inconsistency. But on the biggest stage of his young career, Smith played with the poise that has been expected of the McDonald's All-American coming out of high school, helping No. 6 seed Maryland defeat a relentless No. 11 seed Belmont, 79-77, in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Terps advanced to the second round and will face No. 3 seed LSU on Saturday. The Tigers defeated Yale earlier in the day.
1. Jalen Smith's monster dunk was the play of the game and turned the tide for Maryland.
With two minutes to play in the game, the Terps clung to a one-point lead. Belmont's star player, Dylan Windler, had just cut the lead to 74-73
on a nice dunk on a back cut
, a play that had killed Maryland all game.
On the Terps' ensuing possession, sophomore guard Darryl Morsell grabbed a loose ball and fed Smith, who rose up and flushed one of the best poster dunks of the season over Windler, drawing a foul in the process. Smith sunk the free throw to push the lead to four and helping Maryland win their first NCAA Tournament game since 2016.
The play capped a monumental night for Smith, who finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds -- including eight on the offensive glass.
In three key possessions late in the second half, Smith collected offensive rebounds and finished around the rim. He finished 8-of-9 from the field on the game.
2. Darryl Morsell had one of the best games of his career.
Despite being given the thankless task of guarding Windler for 40 minutes, Morsell made every shot difficult for the Bruins' star. His best defensive play came during Belmont's final possession of the game. With four seconds remaining, Morsell stole a pass to a cutting Windler in the lane and was fouled, making one of two free throws to ice the victory for Maryland.
Morsell is not known for his offensive prowess but came up huge for Maryland several times, including hitting a 3-pointer with 5:37 to play to cut the Bruins' lead to one. Four plays later after Cowan tied the game at 71 on a 3-pointer, Morsell earned three the old-fashioned way, scoring on a driving layup and hitting the free throw after being fouled by Belmont's Kevin McClain.
The sophomore finished with 18 points on 8-of-10 shooting, including 11 points in the second half.
3. Dylan Windler showed why he and Belmont belonged in the NCAA Tournament.
In the play-in game between No. 11 seeds Belmont and Temple March 19, Windler was uncharacteristically quiet on offense. The guard finished with five points, more than 16 points below his season average (20.8 points per game), but the Bruins were able to put away Temple late to advance.
Against Maryland, Windler showed exactly the kind of player he has been in the Ohio Valley Conference all season. In the first half, the senior guard gashed Maryland for 15 first-half points to go with eight rebounds, but he was only getting started.
After the break, Windler went to work. He scored 20 points, including three off-balance 3-pointers that kept Belmont in the game, and finished with a game-high 35 points and 11 rebounds.
4. Maryland overcame poor outside shooting.
The Terps were clearly intent on getting to the basket early in the game. Ten of their first 11 shots came in the paint. The focus didn't last, as the Terps began to rain threes late in the first half, including three misses from deep in one possession.
At the half, Maryland was just 2-of-11 from deep and finished 6-for-22 on the game.
Nine missed layups in the first half contributed to a six-point halftime deficit for the Terps. But thanks to a 14-0 run spanning both halves, Maryland was able to stretch the lead to as many as eight in a game that included four ties and nine lead changes.
Junior guard Anthony Cowan and freshman guard Eric Ayala were ice cold to start the game, combining to shoot 3-of-17 from the field in the first half, including 0-of-8 from 3-point range.
Cowan was particularly inaccurate, shooting 2-for-11 in the half. He missed his first eight 3-point attempts before making one of the biggest shots of the game, a 3-pointer with 4:07 remaining to tie things at 71.
Cowan finished with nine points (3-of-18 from the field), none bigger than his lone three of the game. He also dished out six assists.
5. Maryland limited its turnovers.
The Terps' Achilles heel all year has been turnovers. Much had been made of their propensity to give away needless turnovers. But maybe the NCAA truly is a "new season," as head coach Mark Turgeon puts it. His team finished with just five on the game.
In fact, the Terps went without a turnover throughout the final 8:36 of the game to help ice the Bruins.
Five is by far the fewest turnovers Maryland has committed all season. Their previous low was eight against Loyola (Maryland) in December.
Maryland's ball control must continue if they want to make it to the second weekend of the tournament. The Terps' next opponent, LSU, is extremely athletic and had seven steals against Yale in their opening-round victory.
Follow Brooks on Twitter @b3dubose
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox