- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 21, 2004

DENVER.

The Maryland Terrapins did not deserve to have this last chance at the end yesterday.

They would not have had this chance if Josh Pace had not fouled Mike Jones on a 3-point attempt and if Craig Forth had not missed four consecutive free throws and if Gerry McNamara had not split a pair of free throws with 7.5 seconds left.

The Terps were down two points at the end, with a chance to tie or win the game, after spending the first half in a fog, after being unable to complete the most perfunctory plays.

D.J. Strawberry missed a wide-open layup attempt in the first half, and Ekene Ibekwe threw a no-look, over-the-shoulder pass to no one on the opposite end of the court. With no one there to catch the pass, the ball went out of bounds, and all Gary Williams could do was wonder if the other Terps team — the ACC championship Terps team — ever would show up.

The Terps could not shoot the ball in the first half, they could not take care of the ball and they looked lost, destined to receive a 20-point beating from the Orangemen. Even in the second half, for the longest time, the Terps looked out of it, down 16 points with 12:39 left.

The Terps, though, refused to go away and kept scrambling, kept pushing, even as the circumstances accumulated against them.

John Gilchrist got into foul trouble in the second half and never really put his touch on the game before fouling out with 29 seconds left. The Terps also lost Chris McCray and Ibekwe to fouls.

The numbers said it should not have been a one-possession game after the Terps shot 38.5 percent from the floor, 71.1 percent from the free throw line, committed 17 turnovers and made only three of 12 3-point attempts against the Orangemen’s celebrated 2-3 zone defense.

“I thought we might lose by 50 at one point,” Williams said.

Yet Williams had seen a fighting spirit in his team all season.

The Terps could break your heart at times. Then, just as you would be ready to avert your eyes in dismay, they would win you back with this or that improbable sequence, as they did against the Orangemen.

The Terps were young enough to be awful at times. They were gritty and fearless enough to be ACC champions.

“If anything characterizes this team, it’s that determination,” Williams said.

At halftime, Williams thought the Terps, as bad as they were, could win the game.

“As a coach, you don’t always have to be smart,” he said.

You just have to believe. You just have to keep exhorting your players to stick with it.

So here it was, late in the game, and there was Strawberry with the ball, looking to be somebody in March, looking to add more steam to the glasses of Jim Boeheim, the Mr. Peepers of the coaching fraternity.

Boeheim had just barked at Pace.

“How could you foul him?” Boeheim said, meaning Jones, who was a desperate 30 feet from the basket.

Boeheim had his own demons to address.

How could Boeheim leave Forth in the game after Forth had looked so bad on his first trip to the free throw line?

“Of the big men, he’s our best free throw shooter,” Boeheim said later, still not addressing the oversight.

“It was one of those things,” he said, referring to the misses.

Boeheim looked so miserable there, squirming on the bench, wondering how it came down to this, with the ball in the hands of Strawberry, and anxiety all around.

“The longest couple of seconds of my life,” Syracuse forward Hakim Warrick said.

Strawberry ended up 12-13 feet from the basket on the right baseline, not sure how much time was left, and took a tough shot in traffic.

“He got caught there a little bit,” Williams said.

It was a shot motivated by the uncertainty of the clock. It was a shot that did not have to be.

Strawberry had more time than he suspected. He had enough time to retrieve his miss and hurry up another shot that was off the mark.

End of game. End of season for the Terps.

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