Columbus, OH (SportsNetwork.com) - Maryland returned to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five years and was carried to a win by its top scorers.
But it was a little-used senior guard who made perhaps the biggest play in a 65-62 win over upset-minded Valparaiso on Friday.
Varun Ram, standing all of 5-foot-9, checked into the game for the first time with 13 seconds remaining and stripped Valparaiso's Keith Carter as he went up for a 3-point attempt.
Ram played Carter tight, forcing him to the sideline, and whipped his hand out to swat the ball away. Fans on social media cried foul -- Ram may have gotten the Valpo guard on the arm -- but none was called and Maryland ended up with the ball near the baseline as time expired.
Maryland coach Mark Turgeon's team was in foul trouble, so he turned to a player who "brings it every day" in practice.
"What I had left to play, he was clearly one of our top-five defenders to put in," Turgeon said. "And so it was really without hesitation to put him in. I have confidence in him to do the right thing. He's been with me now three years. So it was pretty easy. If we weren't in as much foul trouble, probably wouldn't have done it but we already had some guys fouled out and things like that. So we did it."
Melo Trimble and Dez Wells scored 14 points each for the Terrapins (28-6) but third-leading scorer Jake Layman was held to just one shot and four points before fouling out late.
The fourth-seeded Terrapins, in the tournament for the first time since 2010, will face fifth-seeded West Virginia on Sunday in the Midwest Region.
Jared Nickens also had 14 points for Maryland and Trimble, the freshman star, got a game-high 10 rebounds. The senior Wells shot an efficient 5-for-9.
Bryce Drew, the former Crusaders star who's in his fourth year as their coach, had a chance to draw up a final play during a timeout with 13 seconds left. But Carter ended up with the ball, not leading scorer Alec Peters, who paced Valparaiso (28-6) with 18 points.
Peters said the play was called for him to take a 3.
"We wanted to extend the game to overtime," he said. "We thought we'd give ourselves a chance. And they played great D. They switched the screen and I was supposed to pop back for a 3 and just they guarded it well. They defended it well."
The Crusaders still haven't won an NCAA Tournament game since their Sweet 16 run in 1998, the year Drew famously hit "The Shot" -- a leaning 3-pointer at the buzzer to upset fourth-seeded Ole Miss in the first round.
"It's easier as a player," Drew said of the pressure of an NCAA Tournament game. "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."
Tevonn Walker added 14 points for the Horizon League champions.
The Terrapins have lost just once in their last 10 games, to Michigan State in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament last Saturday.
They led by as much as nine points in the first half but had to battle the Crusaders down the stretch.
Valpo tied the score twice in the last 11 minutes, including at 49-49 on E. Victor Nickerson's 3-pointer from the right side.
Later, Wells came up with Maryland's biggest play of the game on the offensive side after Layman missed his only shot of the game. Wells grabbed the rebound, scored despite being fouled and made the free throw for a 65-61 Maryland lead with 1:44 remaining.
Maryland was awarded possession following a replay review of an out of bounds call at the other end, but Layman fouled out on a charging call about eight seconds before Damonte Dodd also fouled out for Maryland, leading to a made foul shot by Walker for the Crusaders.
Wells missed at the other end for Maryland, setting up Valpo's final play.
Ram, a former walk-on, played a total of 55 minutes this season entering the game ... Drew led Valpo to three consecutive NCAA Tournaments as a player in the 1990s while his father Homer was coach.