Maryland men’s basketball was no stranger to routs.
The Terps suffered their joint-largest Big Ten defeat in a 35-point loss to Michigan on New Year’s Day after they sustained their largest ever defeat at Xfinity Center in a 27-point trouncing against UCLA.
They fell in lopsided fashion once again on Saturday against Alabama, the No. 1 overall seed in the national tournament. The Crimson Tide recovered from a slow start and outpaced coach Kevin Willard’s squad before pulling away en route to a 22-point victory.
The Terps’ largest loss in the NCAA tournament since 2000 capped off Maryland’s 2022-23 campaign — one that ended with players in red-clad jerseys wiping tears off their face on the Terps’ bench.
Such is the nature of college basketball. Few teams end their season with a win.
The Terps suffered the same fate as almost every program that graces the hardwood in March, even if it was in a slightly more ignominious fashion than many due to the margin of defeat — something they’d endured before.
But Maryland’s lows won’t be what’s remembered when looking back on Willard’s inaugural season.
The lopsided losses? Only record books will bear testimony to those select results, their importance superseded by a team that overachieved on the whole.
The Terps hit court-storming highs in the first year under a new regime, including an 8-0 start to the season, a 10-0 home record in conference play and the relative revival of a fervent College Park fanbase.
Maryland was selected 10th in the Big Ten preseason poll but performed well above expectations. It ended up tied for fifth, and let an even higher conference finish slip away after a last-second basket gave Penn State a comeback victory in the regular season finale.
If a trio of Terps underneath the basket could have corralled a rebound, Maryland would have finished joint second in the Big Ten and earned the No. 2 overall seed in the conference tournament.
Despite their struggles on the road, Willard’s squad went undefeated against conference opponents in an arena that turned into a fortress.
The Terps sold out their stadium on three or more occasions for the first time since the 2016-17 season. Maryland’s average attendance rose by almost 1,000 per game despite those numbers consistently decreasing over the past six years, apart from a slight bump during the 2019-20 season.
“Our fan base has been rockin with us all year,” Jahmir Young said. “I felt like it was a great decision [to transfer to Maryland] and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Fans came to support a team that only gave them something to cheer about in the Xfinity Center stands, apart from one late Wednesday night in December against UCLA. Maryland finished the season 16-1 at home.
The raucous celebrations that became a common occurrence over the course of the season spilled onto the court on Feb. 16 as the Terps toppled then-No. 3 Purdue, the program’s first win over a top-five ranked opponent since 2016.
Willard became the first head coach in program history to earn an NCAA tournament bid in their inaugural season. The Terps expanded on that triumph with a gritty win over West Virginia in the first round. They did so despite returning just eight players from last season, only four of which played a consistent role in Willard’s rotation.
“If you had told me I’d be playing in the second round [after] inheriting five guys on the roster, I would have told you you’re nuts,” Willard said.
Maryland wasn’t able to hang with the top overall seed on Saturday. Alabama’s 45-point second half was enough for it to pull away and hand the Terps their worst loss in the national tournament since the beginning of the century, a margin of defeat that Young said didn’t really reflect how hard they played.
But with the unforeseen success and surpassed expectations, results throughout the season that might have otherwise been concerning become nothing but an unforgettable blip. Willard’s inaugural season has given Maryland the platform to reach even higher highs.
“It’s a good first step,” Willard said. “I mean, we have a lot more steps that we need to take as a program, and we’ll get it there.”