NCAA Maryland LSU Basketball

LSU's Darius Days (22) celebrates after sinking a shot against Maryland during the first half of a second-round game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament in Jacksonville, Fla., Saturday, March 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Darius Days stood clear of the wild scene unfolding in front of him, waiting for the right time to join the celebration.

As player after player dog-piled atop LSU point guard Tremont Waters after his clutch, game-winning layup against Maryland on Saturday, Days was content to soak everything in for a few seconds before getting involved.

“Little Tre was on the bottom of the pile, but I was still standing up,” a smiling Days said in the din of the Tigers’ locker room after a 69-67 win. “That was the first one I’ve ever been around on a basketball court. I was like, ‘Yay, yay,’ but I wasn’t getting on that ground.”

Wise beyond his years, Days wasn’t about to risk injury and add even more adversity to an LSU basketball team that — somehow, some way — was headed to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2006 with its second-round NCAA tournament win over Maryland.

Waters made it happen when he used a screen from Naz Reid, split two defenders and avoided the outstretched hand of Maryland forward Jalen Smith, who, at 6 feet, 10 inches, towered over Waters by at least a foot.

When his underhanded scoop shot landed safely in the bottom of the net, it capped another magical finish for 12th-ranked LSU, which will go against No. 5 Michigan State in the East regional semifinals Friday night in Washington.

It didn’t look like it would happen, though.

For a 15-minute stretch leading up to Waters’ shot, it looked like it was going to be touch-and-go again for LSU — which already had 17 games decided by six points or less this season.

When LSU looked like it was going to blow Maryland out in building a 15-point lead for the third time in the game, Terrapins coach Mark Turgeon switched to a 3-2 zone that befuddled the Tigers offense and slowed them to a turtle’s pace.

“Mark made a great adjustment,” LSU interim coach Tony Benford said. “We knew they were going to run the 3-2, and we had worked on it. But when you don’t have but one day to prepare, it’s tough.”

After Maryland went zone during an official timeout with 11:16 to play, LSU went cold from the field against Turgeon’s rarely-used 3-2.

The Tigers were 1 of 9 in that first stretch and went 5 of 18 with five misses from 3-point range as the Terrapins turned a seven-point deficit into a two-point lead with six minutes remaining.

“You’ve got to make shots,” Benford said. “At the end of the day, I don’t care what kind of zone it is … You’ve got to make shots.”

Benford credited assistant coach Bill Armstrong, who had done the scouting on Maryland, for making sure the Tigers were ready when it came.

“We talked about it before the game, ‘I don’t care if it’s man or zone or 3-2, we want to attack the paint,’ ” Benford said. “I thought we got away from it. Our movement wasn't very good. We called a couple plays out of the timeout and scored, but then I thought sometimes we settled too much.

“But at the end of the day, you've got to make shots and we made the big one at the end.”

Assistant coach Greg Heiar said Maryland played the 3-2 zone for only 30 possessions all year.

The Terps did it mostly against Michigan, which drew Maryland’s big-man tandem of Smith and Bruno Fernando away from the basket and found seams it exploited — like the Tigers did on the final play.

The play was set up when Reid, who lined up under the basket with Kavell Bigby-Williams, popped out to the free-throw line and set the screen on Maryland’s Darryl Morsell that gave Waters the opportunity get around the corner and make his way to the goal.

“It was open all game against the 3-2 zone,” Heiar said. “The middle was wide open.”

And, in the end, Waters made the Terps pay.


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Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter, @MicklesAdvocate.