- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 22, 2009

Greivis Vasquez’s departure from the Comcast Center court Saturday included a greeting for Maryland’s campus president, a warm embrace for a cheerleader and a chest-bump for a student manager.

It was only appropriate. He had done just about everything else for the Terrapins to engineer a upset of No. 3 North Carolina.

Vasquez uncorked Maryland’s first triple-double since 1987 as the Terps erased a 16-point deficit to earn an 88-85 overtime victory. Throngs of students rushed the floor after North Carolina’s Ty Lawson turned it over in the closing seconds to give Maryland (17-9, 6-6 ACC) its second victory against a top-five opponent this season and new life to its NCAA tournament chances.

“Coaches kept telling us all week we could win this game and that this was one of the games that could change our season,” guard Cliff Tucker said. “We just came here and played hard. Even though we were down, we had it in our mind we were going to win this game.”

From the start of preseason practice, Vasquez promised triple-doubles and plenty of them. Yet it didn’t happen until Saturday, when he totaled 35 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. He secured the feat with an assist early in overtime.

Vasquez joined Derrick Lewis as the only players in Maryland history to record a triple-double (Lewis had two in 1987). Vasquez also scored the Terps’ first 16 points, cooling briefly before adding eight points in overtime to complete the comeback.

“I talk to myself a lot and say I’m a good player, and I watch all those guys from other teams like Jack [McClinton] and Tyrese Rice, and I say, ‘When is the time when I’m going to have the game of my life?’ ” Vasquez said. “I just said, ‘You have to keep working and it will come.’ It came at a great, great time, beating UNC and getting a triple-double. Hopefully, I have another one of those again.”

One was impressive for Vasquez, who received help from Tucker (career-high 22 points) and Eric Hayes (17 points) off the bench on a day Maryland encountered severe foul trouble in the first five minutes and was forced to mix and match personnel the rest of the way.

Both Landon Milbourne and Dino Gregory fouled out in regulation, and the Tar Heels (24-3, 10-3) looked certain to win their 11th straight when they bumped their lead to 76-67 with 1:55 left - even after coach Gary Williams turned to the crowd and implored them to cheer louder during a North Carolina free throw.

Yet Maryland never faded, with Tucker, Vasquez and Hayes helping trim the lead to 76-74 in the next minute. After Danny Green’s miss with 21.4 seconds remaining, Vasquez charged in for a layup at the 9.2-second mark to tie it and force overtime.

“Once we got to overtime, I knew the game was in the bag,” forward Dave Neal said. “The fans were excellent. I’m just so happy my senior year to be able to say we beat the No. 3 team on my court. It’s an awesome feeling, and it’s something I’ll never forget.”

Perhaps most stunning of all was just how close North Carolina came to blowing things open in regulation. The Tar Heels led by nine at the half and needed less than six minutes to open the margin to 16. With Maryland’s significant foul trouble - Neal and Sean Mosley also shuttled in and out, and Neal fouled out in overtime - North Carolina had every chance to seal things.

Yet no amount of Lawson (24 points) or Tyler Hansbrough (11 points, 11 rebounds) seemed to worry Maryland, which improved its defense on the perimeter. North Carolina was 5-for-19 from the 3-point line, a substantial drop from the 16 converted 3-pointers in the teams’ first meetings.

Down the lead came, first hovering around 10, then six. Never could North Carolina pull away - much to its eventual detriment.

“We just talked about how we had to do this to win the game - get one stop here, score, that’ll get you to six,” Williams said. “But it was always to win the game. It wasn’t to get overtime.”

Maryland simply used the extra period to finish things. And now the Terps’ resume looks far glitzier than it did a few days earlier, when they slunk out of Clemson after a 29-point loss. North Carolina is unlikely to fade, ensuring Maryland has an extra gem to its credit with less than a month until Selection Sunday. It was also a timely victory for Williams, who has absorbed a public beating this season.

“We have a pretty good record,” Williams said. “We’ve beaten some pretty good teams , so I’m looking forward to the future here.”

Just as significantly, it was a signature night for the charismatic Vasquez. The promised triple-double arrived at long last, and suddenly the raucous patrons at Comcast want more - of the team and its star.

“I’m so thankful that it’s unbelievable,” Vasquez said. “I’m going to go to church tomorrow morning and tell God, ‘Thank you for everything you’ve done for me, for giving me my health and giving me that triple-double.’ ”

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