The Maryland Terrapins were locked in a dogfight with the Belmont Bruins late in the second half when a scramble turned into an emphatic highlight for one of the best freshmen in the country.
Jalen Smith, a McDonald’s All-American a year ago and a all-conference freshman team selection this season, took a feed from sophomore guard Darryl Morsell for a monster and-one slam dunk all over a Belmont defender.
No. 6-seed Maryland’s battle with the No. 11-seed Bruins was a contrast of styles throughout. The Terrapins struggled to hit from beyond the arc, while Belmont lived at the three-point line thanks to 35 points from Senior All-American wing Dylan Windler, who went 7 of 13 from long range.
Maryland, with two likely NBA post players, dominated the Bruins inside. Smith, who had an up-and-down freshman season finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds, including eight on the offensive end. Star center Bruno Fernando, a first-team All-Big 10 Conference selection, added another 14 points and 13 rebounds on 5-of-10 shooting.
Smith finished the three-point play with 1:41 remaining and it wound up being critical.
The Terrapins hung on for a 79-77 win against the Bruins after Windler’s half-court attempt at the buzzer sailed wide. Smith’s dunk capped what might have been as much as a six-point swing.
A block on Fernando briefly gave Belmont a chance for a runout in the other direction before Morsell corralled the ball and fed his star power forward, who stretched Maryland’s lead to 77-73.
The Terrapins’ big men will get a major talent Saturday against the No. 3-seed LSU Tigers. LSU features a potential first-round center of its own with star freshman Naz Reid. Smith will need to have another game like he did Thursday to get Maryland to the Sweet 16 for the second time since 2002.