- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 21, 2004

DENVER — D.J. Strawberry saw an opening and drove to the basket with time running out and Maryland down by two. After missing the difficult runner in the lane and getting his own rebound, the Terrapins guard missed a twisting shot as time ran out on another impressive comeback in an incredible turnaround season.

Defending champion Syracuse escaped with a 72-70 win in an NCAA tournament second-round game last night at Pepsi Center. The Terps trailed by 16 with 13 minutes left in the game and by seven with 29 seconds remaining, but unlike in their series of remarkable comeback victories recently, the last-second shots rattled off and the rally fell short.

“We thought we were going to win the game at the end,” Maryland coach Gary Williams said. “We got a pretty good look on D.J.’s follow-up. He had it off before the buzzer. Hey, you get that thing to overtime and that’s all you can do in that situation.”

Syracuse, seeded fifth in the Phoenix region, advanced to next week’s regional semifinal, where it will meet No. 8Alabama, which upset top-seeded Stanford. The Terps (20-12) came into the game with a season-high six-game winning streak but ultimately headed home wondering what might have been.

Orangemen center Hakim Warrick had a dominant effort with 26 points and nine rebounds. Syracuse dominated in the first half while frustrating Maryland with its 2-3 zone. The Terps took quick shots, didn’t penetrate and were sloppy with the ball. Maryland shot 25.9 percent before intermission and committed 11 turnovers.

“We outplayed them in the second half,” said Williams, whose team trailed 32-22 at the break. “We had just dug too big a hole.”

But the Terps almost dug themselves all the way out, even without point guard John Gilchrist, who had a subpar game with seven points and six assists before fouling out. Gerry McNamara made two free throws to give the Orangemen a 71-64 lead with 29 seconds left before Maryland’s Jamar Smith (16 points, eight rebounds) answered with a spinning shot inside.

After Craig Forth missed a pair of free throws, Mike Jones was fouled on a 3-point attempt. The freshman made the first two free throws and missed the third. Teammate Nik Caner-Medley grabbed the rebound, and Strawberry made a twisting layup down the lane. The Terps immediately fouled McNamara, who made the second of two foul shots to set up Strawberry’s final attempts.

Terps forward Travis Garrison doubled over and put his head in his hands after the final shot rimmed out. Nearby, his teammates stood stunned. It was a painful ending to a remarkable season that produced Maryland’s first ACC tournament title in 20 seasons.

“It’s very hard,” Williams said. “We have been in situations like that where we have come back before, and we have won and lost. We played great in the second half — we just didn’t play well in the first half. The ball just didn’t go in at the end.”

The Terps’ offense was stagnant in the first half, and their sputtering start ultimately cost them the game.

“We just didn’t get it to the right people and didn’t convert when we had the opportunities,” Gilchrist said. “I was all right. I just didn’t have my ‘A’ game.”

Syracuse led 32-22 at halftime after the Terps endured a five-minute drought. Maryland was fortunate to be that close considering it couldn’t function against the zone, shot 25.9 percent (7-for-17) and committed 11 turnovers. The Terps rushed shots, settled for perimeter shots and routinely made bad decisions to give the ball away.

The Orangemen didn’t shoot much better, making only 32.1 percent, but Warrick dominated the inside with 13 points and Syracuse made 13 of 16 free throws. The Terps did a nice job defending McNamara, who missed all five of his field goal attempts and had two points. In Syracuse’s first tournament game, he erupted for 43 points against BYU.

Syracuse used a 9-0 run late in the first half to build a 30-19 lead. After Smith’s 3-point play cut the margin to two with 1:57 left, Demetris Nichols answered with a 3-pointer from the top of the key and Forth added an inside basket for Syracuse. After Gilchrist missed a 3-pointer, Warrick finished a fastbreak with a slam. Following Ekene Ibekwe’s missed jumper, Nichols added two free throws to give the Orangemen an 11-point bulge.

Mike Jones broke the drought with a 3-pointer from the left corner, and Syracuse called timeout to set up a final play with 15 seconds left in the half. It worked out perfectly as McNamara drove and drew the defense before dishing to Warrick for a dunk right before the buzzer.

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