- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 15, 2008

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Greivis Vasquez lingered in Maryland’s locker room at Charlotte Bobcats Arena on Thursday night, surveying the final damage of a lost season.

The Terrapins arrived in Charlotte a little more than 48 hours earlier, needing to deliver proof of who they really were. And so they did, proffering a 71-68 loss to Boston College to flatten what little hope of an NCAA tournament berth remained.

The numbers will be rehashed ad infinitum until October, the telling figures of a year that swirled down the drain in a month. The losses stacked up in the end — three straight, five out of six, six out of eight — and three came in spite of building double-digit leads in the second half.

“It was a rollercoaster. … It’s the toughest year in my life as a player,” Vasquez said. “But I still have my hopes. I’m going to do something good before I leave.”

For the feisty Vasquez, the now inevitable trip to the NIT next week does not qualify. Maryland officials already agreed to participate if the Terps did not make the NCAA tournament, and coach Gary Williams said Thursday he would not decline an invitation and avoid a rerun of the embarrassing decline-then-accept flap of two years ago.

That is the appropriate fate for the Terps (18-14), who put together about seven good weeks with a memorable highlight — the victory at North Carolina — wedged into the middle. But it was the bookends, with a slow start and a painful finish, that ultimately did them in.

Senior forward James Gist promised it was only a matter of when, not if, the Terps would be good. And he was right. Maryland was an NCAA tournament quality team, but the hard truth that Selection Sunday was March 16 and not a month earlier was re-inforced with a slide ended only because the season came to a close.

“I think we were a good team and you can’t take that away from us because we could play with anybody,” Gist said. “Every game we played, we had a chance to push the lead out and put a team away. The games we lost, we let them come back.”

And it happened with alarming regularity. The Terps lost seven games it led in the second half to conference opponents, including the three agonizing games in March that completed the team’s downfall.

It was fair to wonder after Maryland surrendered a 20-point lead in the second half against Clemson on March 2 whether the Terps could recover from the meltdown. Ultimately, it did not happen.

“Our confidence got hurt the first time we did it and we weren’t strong enough to stay tough with it,” Williams said. “The thing that was consistent when we lost those leads … is we gave up some easier scores. I thought it was easier for BC to score in the second half, obviously for Clemson in the second half, Virginia really the same way.”

There still is the matter of the NIT, the Terps’ third in four years, but it is impossible for the holdovers not to begin thinking about what could come

“I think I just have to sit down and think through the entire season and watch every tape and see what I need to work on and maybe give Maryland a championship before I leave,” Vasquez said. “I still have my hopes, and I’m capable. It’s just hard to take it right now because you lose, and you feel like you’re not good enough.”

There were more than enough frustrating moments this season for Vasquez, and viewing all that film won’t make him feel too much better. But what might is the reality he will be the unquestioned face and voice of the team.

“Exactly,” Vasquez said. “That’s going to be my group.”

With that, he departed for the arena’s exit, hoping to figuratively leave the last month’s wreckage behind him.

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