JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Maryland's Eric Ayala deflected a pass to set up a steal by Darryl Morsell that stopped Belmont's last-second attempt at an NCAA Tournament upset and the Terrapins escaped with a 79-77 victory Thursday in the East Region.
Playing their second tournament game in less than 48 hours, the 11th-seeded Bruins left no doubt they belonged after receiving one of the selection committee's final at-large bids.
But the mid-major powerhouse from Nashville, Tennessee couldn't knock off the No. 6-seeded Terrapins (23-10) from the Big Ten, despite a 35-point performance by Dylan Windler.
Maryland was clinging to a one-point lead and the shot clock was off as Belmont (26-6) had a chance to win it at the buzzer. The Bruins didn't bother calling a timeout to set up a play; they knew what they wanted to do -- a backdoor pass to Windler that had been one of their bread-and-butter calls all afternoon.
But Ayala barely got a hand on the pass from freshman Grayson Murphy and Morsell stepped in front of Windler to pick off the ball while the Belmont star tumbled to the court. Morsell was fouled with 2.5 seconds to go, sending him to the other end of the court for a pair of free throws. He made the first and missed the second, and Windler heaved an unsuccessful desperation shot from midcourt.
The shot didn't come close to hitting the rim and set off a relieved celebration from the Maryland contingent. Windler sank to the court, thoroughly exhausted after playing all but 88 seconds after a victory over Temple in a play-in game Tuesday.
Maryland advanced to play No. 3 seed LSU in the second round Saturday.
Jalen Smith led four Maryland players in double figures with 19 points, including a huge three-point play with 1:41 remaining. Belmont appeared to get a crucial stop when Nick Muszynski swatted away a shot by Bruno Fernando, setting off a wild scamble that left four players -- three from Belmont, one from Maryland -- sprawled on the floor.
Morsell came up with the loose ball and fed it to Smith under the basket for a thunderous dunk that also drew a foul. Smith knocked down the free throw, giving the Terps a 77-73 lead.
It held up. Barely.
Belmont led by as many as 12 points in the first half and went to the break with a 40-34 lead.
Maryland returned from the locker room intent on putting its size advantage to good use. The Terrapins began pounding the ball inside for easy baskets, or popping it back outside for open jumpers when the Bruins attempted to double-team the Maryland big men -- and it resulted in a 14-0 run to start the half.
The Terps seemed to be in control. But Belmont just wouldn't go away.
Backup center Seth Adelsperger, known as "Mountain Man," gave the Bruins some huge minutes when Muszynski went to the bench with foul trouble.
Not known as much of an offensive threat, Adelsberger rocked the rim with back-to-back dunks that sent the Belmont bench into a tizzy, prompting some of his teammates to mockingly fall over as if about to faint in disbelief.
Belmont: The Bruins hung tough despite missing one of their top backups. Freshman forward Caleb Hollander remained at the team hotel in Jacksonville with an illness and the Bruins were without a player who averaged 7.0 points and 4.5 rebounds per game.
Outmanned on the inside, Belmont relied on Windler and Kevin McClain (19 points) for most of its offense. Windler also led the team with 11 rebounds, while Adelsberger pulled down 10 boards.
Maryland: This was the sort of test that should serve the Terps well in the next round. They displayed plenty of balance, scored on the inside and the perimeter, and made only five turnovers in an extremely well-played game by both teams. Belmont also had just five turnovers.
Belmont: Returns home to savor its first NCAA victory and a stellar season that included a win at UCLA and a 14-game winning streak.
Maryland: Will be looking to advance to the regional semifinals for the first time since 2016 when it faces LSU.