- The Washington Times - Friday, March 14, 2008

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — No lead is ever safe whenever the Maryland basketball team is involved.

At least none of the Terrapins’ leads.

Maryland squandered double-digit leads in devastating losses to Virginia Tech and Clemson late in the regular season. And so it should come as little surprise the sixth-seeded Terps would bow out of the ACC tournament in similar fashion, dropping a 71-68 decision to 11th-seeded Boston College to pull the plug on their NCAA tournament hopes.

Maryland (18-14) finished the season with five losses in six games, a collapse unthinkable just a month ago. And rather than cling to any hopes of an NCAA tournament berth, the Terps are resigned to their third trip to the NIT in four years.

The Terps’ latest self-immolation came against a team that had lost 12 of 13, an opponent as reliant on a single player as any other team in the conference and a foe with virtually no hope of any postseason play. But while Boston College (14-16) merits credit for showing up, the Terps warrant the bulk of the blame for their latest disaster.

All of Boston College’s problems didn’t stop Maryland from committing 21 turnovers, from yielding 17 second-chance points thanks to a 41-31 rebounding deficit and from losing despite keeping Eagles guard Tyrese Rice (19 points, 7-for-18 shooting) in check much of the night.

In the end, it was the potpourri of offensive miscues in particular that doomed the Terps. There were careless passes, awful decisions and more than a few times when it seemed no one other than guard Greivis Vasquez was remotely interested in taking a shot.

“I was just hoping we would pick it up,” Terps forward James Gist said. “I kept thinking, ‘We’re going to turn it around. We’re going to pick it up. It’s not going to happen.’ But it happened.”

Maryland led 36-25 early in the second half after consecutive jumpers by Gist (19 points), and there seemed to be a chance the Terps could put an opponent away. But most who have watched them would know better.

The Eagles took their first lead at 40-39 with 12:54 left, though the Terps managed to regain a marginal lead. But Maryland — so reliant on its five starters throughout the season — suddenly got little from any of them for a long time.

The Terps’ starting five was blanked for seven minutes. And in no small coincidence, the Eagles cobbled together a 13-0 run to assume a 60-50 lead with 3:52 left.

But unlike some of Maryland’s other collapses, it still had time to rally. The Terps rattled off seven straight points, with a revitalized Gist — who left briefly with a right leg injury — scoring five points in the spurt.

Maryland never got that close until Eric Hayes’ 3-pointer with 5.9 seconds left. One possession ended when Vasquez hoisted a 3-pointer after Hayes passed on a reasonably open look. Vasquez fumbled away the dribble on the next possession, leading to an easy fast-break layup for Rice.

Eventually, the inevitable demise arrived, with the Terps forced to face the reality of their disintegration, Gist left to sullenly limp off the floor with five seconds left in his last meaningful game at Maryland.

“It was hard to walk off the court without that win,” Gist said. “I wanted that win, and I know this team wanted that win. We wanted a chance to compete for the ACC tournament. We lost our opportunity by losing this game.”

With all the predictability of a “Law & Order” episode, the Terps stuck to the formula that got them on the outside of the postseason picture in the first half. For nearly 10 minutes they were amazing, forcing turnovers and running a crisp offense while building a 22-7 lead over the reeling Eagles.

That lead rose and fell and eventually got back to 11 early in the second half. At that juncture, the Eagles had the Terps exactly where any opponent would want them these days.

And that put the Terps on an irreversible collision course with the NIT.

“We battled this year. … We did some good things,” Maryland coach Gary Williams said. “But at the same time this hurts right now. We battled ourselves back to a point where we had a shot to get back to the NCAA tournament for the second straight time, and we didn’t do it.”

Last night at Charlotte (N.C.)

Bobcats Arena –Point lead blown against Boston College, an appropriate way for the Terrapins to dash their slim NCAA tournament hopes. Maryland lost seven games against conference opponents despite holding second-half leads.

Record for Maryland in the ACC tournament since its championship run in 2004. The Terrapins also have played on the first day of the tournament each of the last four years, something only Miami and Florida State also have done.

PLAY OF THE GAME–-In a moment that was symptomatic of what ailed the Terps for much of the season, guard Greivis Vasquez zipped a pass to nobody with 56.5 seconds left in the first half and watched it scoot out of bounds. Vasquez then put his hands on his head in frustration.

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