- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 23, 2003

NASHVILLE, Tenn.
There were five seconds left and nearly 94 feet of court before Drew Nicholas.
There was no time to think, no room to deliver the ball to Steve Blake, as coach Gary Williams had designed during the preceding timeout. There were frantic faces all about the den, UNC Wilmington up one point over the school that won the national championship last season.
This was the ACC vs. the Colonial Athletic Association, the brand name vs. the generic, in what turned out be one of those upside-down first-round meetings so typical of March.
Nicholas took possession of the ball after Aaron Coombs hit two free throws to put the Seahawks ahead. Coombs was the next-to-last improbability of the night at the Gaylord Entertainment Center.
The numbers are supposed to be especially revealing near the end of a tight game. Here is what the numbers said of Coombs, a sophomore backup forward: a .463 free throw shooter last season and a .409 free throw shooter before the last two free throws of this season. He sank both attempts.
It was sort of like that all night with the Seahawks.
Brett Blizzard, the team's leading scorer with a 21.3 average, made five shots and missed 10 and finished with 15 points. John Goldsberry, carrying a 4.2 scoring average, made all eight of his 3-point attempts.
The Terrapins committed the numbers to memory before the game, and here were the numbers mocking them, as so often happens in March, when the air becomes thin and the nerves frayed, and the underdog of the moment is five seconds away from dancing around the court in celebration.
"It was one of those things," Williams said of Goldsberry. "We were stopping their two best scorers."
None of that mattered now in the waning seconds.
Nicholas had the ball and a faint hope as he moved to the right side of the floor beyond the 3-point arc. He had one defender trailing him and another bearing down on him to challenge the shot. Time was almost out, the season almost out for the Terps, and so Nicholas was left to improvise.
He could not stop to pull up. Instead, in one motion, as if about to shoot a layup, he squared his shoulders and took a running one-handed shot from about 21 feet, with the hand of Anthony Terrell in his face. This was a shot from the asphalt playgrounds of Hempstead, N.Y., on Long Island, where Nicholas honed his skills and imagined how it could be with the clock ticking down and a basketball tomorrow hanging in the balance. This was a prayerful shot, the last gasp of a team that lost itself in the last 10 games before the NCAA tournament.
"It wasn't the prettiest shot," Nicholas said.
You couldn't tell by the jubilant reaction of Williams and the Terps and the daze that froze the Seahawks in place after the shot went through the cylinder.
The flood of antithetical emotions merited a momentary pause as the referees huddled around a courtside monitor before determining that Nicholas had released the ball with five-tenths of a second left.
"It hasn't sunk in yet," Nicholas said. "I can't believe it."
This is how it sometimes goes in March, in the belly of the single-elimination demon. The winning team is sometimes only the more fortunate team.
The Terps survived the ordeal as much as they won it.
"That game always will be special to me," Williams said. "That's not easy to do, particularly when you're not playing well."
After Blizzard hit a 3-pointer to tie the game 62-62 with 6:09 left, the Terps exhibited equal measures of unsteadiness and resolve.
They came up empty on half of their last 12 possessions.
They also came up with two game-preserving gems: a long 3-pointer by Nicholas with 3:27 left following a timeout and a 3-pointer by Blake with 20 seconds left. Those two shots, along with four three throws, sustained the Terps until the wrong play became the right play.
Time was the first priority in the sideline huddle, Blake the first option.
"Steve can get down the court faster than anyone on the team," Nicholas said.
Nicholas was fast enough, the shot ever true.
This is the unyielding pull of March, the antidote in these dark times.
One game. One shot.
One team moves forward, the other team goes home.
So now the Terps have more tape to study and more numbers to digest and more anomalies to avert. They have another basketball day in them.
Next up: Xavier.

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