I'll be clear to start here: I had Maryland winning this game in my bracket, so this is not a sour grapes, "why did I pick that?" rant.
What I also had in my bracket was Buffalo, UC Irvine, Wofford and Eastern Washington. Am I disappointed that not one of those teams that was so close to put it over the top? Yes.
But I would gladly have lost those four games, and lose the Maryland pick to have seen Valparaiso execute at the end of the game and get the game-tying shot off. If the Crusaders had been able to force overtime in what was a 65-62 loss to the Terrapins, they had that game.
Maryland had lost Damonte Dodd and Jake Layman with five fouls. Evan Smotrycz had four fouls. The Terrapins were on the ropes and just waiting for the Crusaders to throw the haymaker that would have knocked them out.
Instead what we saw was a lack of execution. The Crusaders had the ball with 33 seconds left. They had plenty of time to set up a shot. They had plenty of time to drive the basket and possibly force Maryland to foul them so they could get two points and extend the game by making Maryland shoot free throws again.
Valparaiso chose to stand there for 19 seconds. They moved the ball a little, but for the most part, Keith Carter dribbled the ball out of range of anything until Bryce Drew finally ended the suspense of what Valparaiso would do by calling timeout.
Let me be clear about this too: I am not a college basketball coach. I have never been a college basketball coach. As long as some athletic director doesn't lose his mind, I will never be a college basketball coach.
But here is what I know. Drew had his team playing on the halfcourt right in front of him. If he wanted to save his final timeout in case something went wrong, he could have had Carter dribble to him and call a play from the bench as play was in motion. He could have called a play while the team was coming up the floor.
And maybe he did. But if he did, the players certainly didn't do anything about it.
So fine, there is still 14 seconds left, plenty of time for that Drew magic to happen. No, I am not talking about "The Shot" or a version of the shot. I am talking about how Drew has the ability to come up with his own creative play to get his players open for the chance to tie the game.
At this point, there is no going for two, because you have wasted those 19 seconds. They are gone just like the chances of Valparaiso actually finding a way to move on in the NCAA Tournament.
We didn't get that spectacular play though. The ball came back to Carter on the wing, who stood at the bend in the 3-point arc, and continued to stand, and stand, until he finally made a move into the corner and forced his shot as the clock hit one second.
I present this here for you, just because I know the comments about fouls are coming:
I will make no comment on whether this is a foul other than this: if you had been watching the Columbus games for the past 79 minutes of game action, did you really expect the referees to make that call when the game is on the line? Did you actually expect that Valparaiso would get to go to the line to get three shots?
If they had actually blown the whistle, they probably would have gone to the monitor and somehow managed to find a way to call it to two-point attempt instead of a three.
In any case, you can't count on the referees to bail you out for terrible execution in the final seconds of a game like this. You have to make your own destiny.
Valparaiso failed to do that, ruining what had been a fight full of heart and some gutsy play. The Crusaders hung in this by shooting 46.2 percent from 3-point range, which makes their season shooting percentage of 38.4 percent look pedestrian.
But the Crusaders had no answer inside to Maryland. They made just eight baskets inside the arc. Maybe you can win with that kind of discrepancy, but your execution needs to be perfect.
Yet a team whose defense drove their game during the season, couldn't execute against Maryland. The Terrapins shot 46.3 percent, and went to the line 24 times against the Crusaders. Vashil Fernandez, who was the defensive player of the year in the Horizon League had just four defensive rebounds, no steals, and no blocks. No blocks from a guy that manages to swat three shots per game, and 13 percent of the shots he sees. He was rendered useless by the Terrapins.
It is a tough loss, one that is harder to take because of all the losses that came before it.
Valparaiso will have a chance to come back and do this again. They will certainly have learned from this experience.