- Austin Ward, College Football
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The undersized walk-on defensive specialist was mentally focused, pulling hard for his teammates and jumping around a bit to stay just physically warm enough to contribute if for some reason the right set of circumstances demanded it.
With Maryland clinging to a lead, pushed to the brink with foul trouble and facing a crucial, potentially game-winning defensive possession, all the stars aligned. A guard who played all of 55 minutes this season was called on for 13 seconds at Nationwide Arena against the Valparaiso Crusaders, and he made the most of every last one of them before delivering a strip that sent the Terrapins to the third round of the NCAA tournament.
"I've been envisioning this my whole life," Ram said after the Terrapins' 65-62 win. "And being able to actually do it, for it to happen, is amazing. I feel like it's a dream come true. A game of this magnitude, it's unbelievable.
"I'm always just into the game the whole time. I'm kind of getting warm at the end of the bench, and [assistant coach Cliff] Warren at the beginning of the game, you've got to be ready to play, whether it's one possession or 35 minutes."
Ram got the former against the Crusaders, and that was all he needed to craft something of a postseason legacy.
A number of stars had to align just for the chance, starting with Maryland having two players foul out, Valparaiso making it a three-point game thanks to an epic shooting barrage from beyond the arc and then a timeout that gave coach Mark Turgeon a few extra moments to think about his defensive options for the decisive possession.
He went with Ram, who doesn't see much game action but is a daily nuisance for star guard Melo Trimble on the practice court. And that faith in a seldom-used, 5-foot-9, 155-pounder was rewarded with lockdown defense on Keith Carter that produced a turnover at the buzzer.
Technically, there's no statistical evidence of his contribution to the win that set up a date with the West Virginia Mountaineers, since the ball actually wound up in the hands of Evan Smotrycz. But there was no denying Ram's value in the Maryland locker room after the victory was sealed.
"Varun brings it every day," Turgeon said. " And with what I had left to play, he was clearly one of our top five defenders to put in. So it was really without hesitation to put him in, and I have confidence in him to do the right thing.
"The whole thing with Varun, with him, you've got to dial him back because he loves to play defense so much."
The Terrapins obviously didn't have to wind him up at all to prove it, and once he finally left the bench, Ram was clearly ready to leave his mark.
The seldom-used guard comes up with a key defensive play to seal Maryland's NCAA tournament win on Friday.