“I wanted to be aggressive coming in,” Hayes said. “When I knocked one down, I was feeling pretty good about myself and my shot. Greivis did a great job of hitting me when I was open, and I was fortunate to knock them down.”
Vasquez also made a 3-pointer with 2:59 remaining to stretch Maryland’s meager lead to 66-62. Yet it was Hayes who closed out the Wolfpack, making five straight free throws to bump the margin to 71-62 with a minute remaining.
It provided symmetry to the night - Hayes bailing out Maryland early, then closing out the Wolfpack late.
“I’m not sure we ever recover from the way we started if Eric doesn’t come into the game,” coach Gary Williams said. “Greivis found him a couple times, but he still had to hit those shots.”
Hayes’ late free throw flurry ensured there wouldn’t be another flat-out flop to close the season, the sort Maryland endured with its come-from-ahead loss to Boston College in last year’s ACC tournament.
Instead, the Terps have a chance to do something better - prove their postseason worthiness against a top-10 opponent.
“It’s a huge statement game,” guard Cliff Tucker said. “We know we probably should have beaten them the last time. We just have to come here and play hard. We know we probably have to get this one if we want to have a chance to make the NCAA tournament.”