Maryland’s chances for an NCAA tournament bid seemed bleak after a midseason slump, but the resiliency it showed is one of the reasons coach Gary Williams is so optimistic.
Williams again needs his team to display that grit, with the Terrapins looking to recover from an abrupt departure from the ACC tournament as they face Davidson on Thursday in the first round of the Midwest Regional in Buffalo, N.Y.
Maryland (24-8) was given a No. 4 seed despite closing its season with a 67-62 upset loss to last-place Miami last Thursday in the opening round of the conference tournament.
That setback came after the Terrapins had won seven straight, including a victory over North Carolina and two against Duke. The win streak followed a stretch in which the team lost five of eight games to open the bulk of its ACC schedule, falling to 17-7 overall.
“I have felt good with this team all year in terms of their work ethic even in January when we did not have a good record,” Williams said. “To go from there to the seed we got is very gratifying for our program and for our guys that have worked hard.”
Maryland still has to overcome a lackluster loss in which it shot 38 percent from the floor (22-for-57), 17 percent (3-for-18) from 3-point range and 57 percent (15-for-26) from the free-throw line. The Terrapins matched their second-lowest point total of the season in falling to a Miami team which had won just four league games all season.
The Terps hope to avoid the same kinds of mistakes against the Wildcats (29-4), who set a team record for wins and boast one of the nation’s top freshmen in Stephen Curry.
“We know that we can’t look past anyone,” said Maryland forward Ekene Ibekwe, who leads the team with 7.6 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game. “Davidson is another team like us that wants to win some games and go far in this tournament, so we can’t think about what might come next. The tournament is all about effort. If we come out and play our game, we’ll be alright.”
The Terrapins are led by D.J. Strawberry, who is averaging a team-high 15.2 points and 2.1 steals. He shot 4-of-12 from the field and had 13 points against the Hurricanes. The senior guard has shot 33 percent while averaging 10.9 points in MarylandÂ’s eight losses.
The Terps were second in the ACC with 79.5 points per game and fourth in scoring defense, allowing 67.6.
The 13th-seeded Wildcats, who won both the regular-season and tournament titles in the Southern Conference, enter their second straight NCAA tournament having won 13 straight and 25 of 26. Davidson’s losses were to then-No. 9 Duke, Michigan, Missouri and league rival Appalachian State, a 22-game winner which nearly made the tournament.
Davidson coach Bob McKillop feels his Wildcats should have been seeded higher than No. 13 or 14, usually reserved for the Southern Conference champion.
“How many teams have won 29 games? Put us on the same line with teams that have won 25 of their last 26 games,” McKillop said. “Put us in the same range with teams that have only lost one game since Nov. 25.”
Curry scored 29 points, grabbed eight rebounds and took 24 of the Wildcats’ 67 shots in a 72-65 win over College of Charleston in the conference tournament title game. It was the culmination of a surprising season for Davidson, which was picked to finish fourth in the league’s Southern Division in the preseason after losing seven seniors from last year’s team.
Curry, the son of former NBA sharpshooter Dell Curry, is 10th in the nation with 21.2 points per game—the second-highest average among freshmen behind Texas’ Kevin Durant. He has made a freshman Division I record 117 3-pointers.
Curry is joined in the backcourt by point guard Jason Richards, who is second in the nation with 7.3 assists per game.
Davidson is 5-9 over eight previous NCAA tournament appearances. The Wildcats lost to Ohio State in the first round last season.
This is Maryland’s 22nd appearance and first since 2004, when it lost to Syracuse in the second round. The Terrapins are 35-20 all-time, and have won seven straight first-round games.
Maryland leads the all-time series with Davidson 7-3. The teams last met in the second round of the NIT on March 23, 2005, when the Terrapins won 78-63.
Thursday’s winner will face either fifth-seeded Butler or 12th-seeded Old Dominion in the second round Saturday.