Like many Maryland fans, I was concerned when the Terps could not put the spunky Seahawks away. I was not particularly worried because it had taken a peculiar sequence of events to keep UNCW in the game.
Seahawk freshman John Goldsbery (a household name only in his own household) set a NCAA Tournament record by making 8 of 8 3-point shots. His season high before this was 12 points! Additionally, Steve Blake missed most of the second half with foul trouble. Despite this, the Terps led 62-56 with less than eight minutes to play.
Then came the drought. Maryland went over seven minutes without a hoop and trailed by four with less than a minute to play. Ryan Randle missed a putback with 41 seconds left but converted two free throws to draw the Terps within 71-69.
After Joel Justis of UNCW missed the front end of a one-and-one, Steve Blake, knocked down a three-pointer from the corner with 20 seconds left to give Maryland a one-point lead.
The karma still seemed to be with the Seahawks, however, when Aaron Coombs, a 40% free throw shooter, made BOTH ends of a one-and-one to give UNCW a one-point lead with five seconds left.
Maryland was in a difficult situation with no timeouts remaining, but got bailed out by Seahawk coach Brad Brownell. He called a timeout to set his defense, giving Gary Williams time to draw up a play. This was the same critical mistake NC State coach Herb Sendek made at the end of the Terps recent game in Raleigh, and the result was the same. The same genius that developed that strategy probably thought up the prevent defense in football, but I digress.
The play itself was slightly different than in Raleigh. This time, the ball was inbounded directly to Drew Nicholas, who dribbled down to the right side of the three-point arc. With 0.5 seconds on the clock, Nicholas put up a shot off his back foot with a defender in his face. As the ball swished through the net, the Terps players erupted into a wild celebration, many Maryland sports bars exploded with noise, and members of many households saw their sleep disturbed by the screaming and jumping up and down of an ecstatic Terp fan. Or so I heard, anyway.
Calmer heads and non-palpitating hearts will ultimately judge Nicholas' place in Maryland basketball history with this game-winning shot, but I am confident it will rank with the greatest individual plays the program will ever see.
Some thoughts regarding the game:
I am sure some Maryland fans were quite upset at the last two fouls called against the Terps. While I'm not sure they were bad calls, I am sure that the team still has not gained any "champions advantage" when it comes to blowing the whistle. If the game had been ultimately decided on those calls, it would have been a very bitter pill to swallow.
I don't know why Gary was yelling at assistant coach Matt Kovarik while waiting for the officials to review the videotape of Nicholas' shot, but I hope it wasn't for a mistake he directly made. If so, he probably had to walk back to the hotel.
Will television networks covering Maryland's games PLEASE quit showing close-ups of Gary when they know damn well he is going to say some very naughty words. He has a habit of annunciating them, making it hard NOT to read his lips. If I had kids watching the game with me, I would have to cover their eyes. Gary is hardly the only coach to drop some F-bombs during a game, but television coverage could spare us some of the details.
The Terps should have known they would have a tough time tonight when their uniforms were stolen. Being the higher seed, they were supposed to wear their home whites. They were stolen from the team hotel before the game. Beware any game used jerseys showing up on Ebay anytime soon.
It was good to see Sleepy Randle playing with his head in the game again. Hopefully the problems that had distracted him recently are resolved.
I don't know if Maryland will defeat Xavier (4:30 PM Sunday) or not. On my bracket, I said no. I hope I'm wrong. One thing they did decide for me tonight is whether or not this season can be called a success. The toughness and heart they have shown all year, even when they could not seem to buy a hoop at times, had me leaning toward saying yes. Tonight removed any doubt. They gave the fans a highlight that will be remembered as long as there is Maryland basketball.
For me, and I hope a lot of Terp fans, any victories beyond this one are icing on the cake. I don't know about you, but I like a LOT of icing on my cakes. We'll see if they can add a layer Sunday.
Let me know what you think on the message board or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org