Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Fatts Russell’s gritty tournament performance encapsulated his Maryland men’s basketball career

INDIANAPOLIS — Fatts Russell stood stagnant as the final buzzer sounded, his hands clasped over his head as a cluster of white jerseys flooded the court in celebration.

The prospect of an improbable victory had just slipped through his team’s fingertips. A furious comeback fell just one shot short for Maryland men’s basketball, effectively ending its season — and Russell’s five-year collegiate career.

“We just didn’t want this to be our last game together,” Russell said following the Terps’ 76-72 loss to the Spartans in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals.

But while his final swansong didn’t end with an NCAA tournament berth, Fatts Russell went out in typical Fatts Russell fashion. Maryland’s star point guard finished with a team-high 20 points, and added seven rebounds, six assists, two blocks and two steals in his first and only Big Ten tournament contest.

His grit and energy was a necessity for Maryland from the opening tip.

The basket looked like an ocean for Michigan State early in the first half — the Spartans made six of their first seven shots to waltz out to an early edge over Russell and the Terps.

“I thought in the first half they made some tough shots… sometimes you just gotta tip your hat to them,” Manning said. “Good defense, better [offense].”

Russell responded swiftly to help Maryland weather the storm.

Russell and Eric Ayala each connected on a pair of 3-pointers to keep the Terps within striking distance, accounting for 13 of Maryland’s first 15 points while its other starters lagged behind.

As has become the standard over the course of the season, Russell continued to keep his foot on the gas as the first half clock wound. Following back-to-back Julius Marble makes that stretched the Spartans’ lead to eight midway through the period, the 5’11” Russell swooped in for a steal that led to a transition opportunity for Donta Scott to slow the bleeding.

And when Scott fell to the ground in a heap just minutes later after tweaking his ankle, Russell was there to keep Maryland’s momentum flowing as the half drew to a close.

Darting toward the basket through traffic and scooping in a nifty layup, Russell finished the first half with nine points and four rebounds as the Terps trotted to their locker room in a nine-point hole.

Russell continued to battle out of the break, even when his back was pushed against the wall.

The Spartans’ 10-point edge quickly doubled to 20 points midway through the second half, as Maryland played at a plodding pace early in the period. Manning’s squad was able to whittle down the deficit late, but time was running out.

With under two minutes remaining and Maryland trailing by six points, Russell embarked on a stretch that catapulted the Terps back into contention in a hurry.

After Xavier Green snatched his second steal in a short span, Russell found his spot on the wing. He set his feet, aimed, and converted on a long-range shot to cut a once-gargantuan deficit to just three points.

Moments later, Russell put his head down and drove into the lane, drawing contact and banking a layup in to send the Gainbridge Fieldhouse crowd into a frenzy.

“This team fights,” Russell said. “We’ve been through a lot, and nobody ever quit, nobody ever put their head down. We have a team full of fighters in that locker room.”

Russell had a chance to pull off the unthinkable on Maryland’s final possession. But as his final hoist as a Terp bounced into the arms of an awaiting Spartan, his college career ended with his hands on his head in defeat.

His herculean effort didn’t garner him a jaw-dropping win in Indianapolis. But Russell was Maryland’s lifeblood in its final Big Ten battle — something that epitomized his short but sweet tenure as a Terp.

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