Maryland holds off Valparaiso 65-62 with late swipe

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) Varun Ram played 13 seconds of Maryland’s first NCAA Tournament game since 2010 and with one timely swipe earned a place in Terrapins’ history.

The former walk-on thwarted Valparaiso’s last shot attempt with a steal in the closing seconds to help Maryland hold off the determined Crusaders 65-62 on Friday.

The fourth-seeded Terrapins (28-6) advanced to face West Virginia in Midwest Regional on Sunday.

Terps star senior Dez Wells made the biggest offensive play for Maryland, converting a three-point play off an offensive rebound with 1:44 left to make it 65-61. And Ram, a 5-foot-9 senior who had played 55 minutes this season coming into the tournament, did what he does best on the final possession, checking in for the first time with 13 seconds left.

”It’s a situation I’ve been in. Obviously not in a game of this magnitude, but I’ve played defense for one possession before. At the end of the halves or the end of games,” Ram said, unable to contain his smile as he stood in front of his locker.

The 13th-seeded Crusaders (28-6) were down 3 with one last chance for coach Bryce Drew to draw up a winning play. He didn’t need a length of the court pass as he did when he made the most famous shot in school history back in the 1998 tournament, but Valpo did need to get behind the arc.

”They played great defense. I was supposed to pop back and take a 3, but they guarded it well,” said Alec Peters, who led Valpo with 18 points and was 4 for 7 from 3.

Keith Carter improvised when the play broke down and went up for a 3 in the corner, but Ram reached in and smacked the ball away – seemingly getting some of Carter’s arm in the process.

”I thought so,” Carter said.

Not Ram. ”I think I got it clean,” he said.

Wells finished with 14 points for the Terps, who have won 13 games this season by six points or less.

”I guess it’s just the nature of our team,” Wells said. ”And when it gets down to like the grit part of the game, we just find ways to win.”

Star freshman Melo Trimble had 14 points and 10 rebounds for Maryland.

The Terrapins were expected to be middle of the pack in their first season in the Big Ten, but instead finished second behind Wisconsin. They are now 11 wins better than last year.

E. Victor Nickerson dropped in a 3 with 6:37 left to tie the game at 49 for Valpo and make Maryland call a timeout.

The Terps got the lead back with a couple of free throws, and then Trimble snagged a Valpo pass in the paint, broke quickly the other way and found Damonte Dodd for a layup to put the Terps up 53-49 with 6:00 left.

But the Terps could never put away the Crusaders, who shot 12 for 27 from 3-point range.

Tevonn Walker, who scored 14 points, made one free throw with 1:00 left to cut it to 65-62, but Valpo couldn’t get its first NCAA Tournament win since Drew’s buzz-beater against Mississippi sparked a surprising Sweet Sixteen run 17 years ago.

The 40-year-old Drew took the blame for the final play breaking down and never complained about the non-call by officials at the end.

”We tried to do something different than we usually run,” Drew said.

TOUGH TO TAKE

Drew said it was easier to handle the excruciating losses when he was playing.

”You take it hard. But a coach, you don’t sleep very well for a long time. So you second-guess everything you do as a coach. As a player, you go out and work harder in the gym. And so for a coach I definitely think there’s more of that that sticks with you for a longer period of time,” he said.

TIP INS

Jake Layman, Maryland’s third-leading scorer, managed only four points and took one shot in 25 minutes before fouling out. … Fourth-year Terps coach Mark Turgeon took Wichita State to the Sweet Sixteen in 2006 and guided Texas A&M to first-round NCAA victories in four straight seasons before coming to Maryland. … Drew took over four years ago from his father, Homer, whom he played for back when he was breaking Ole Miss hearts, and he’s already taken the Crusaders to the NCAAs twice. Homer Drew was in the stands and he borrowed a pen from a reporter on press row to draw up a play during Valpo’s last timeout.

NEXT UP

Valpo’s season is over after winning a school-record 28 games.

Maryland will try to reach the round of 16 for the first time since 2003 against West Virginia.