- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 22, 2009

KANSAS CITY, Mo. | Every now and then this season, Maryland found itself on the wrong end of a talent gap far too wide to overcome.

Those moments led to ugly, unsightly games that quickly careened toward disaster.

It was easy to forget those struggles, though, as Maryland performed the improbable, upending a few top-10 teams and making a surprising run to the NCAA tournament. And chances are, most of those games will fade as history treats the Terrapins’ overachieving bunch with kindness.

Still, a last impression counts, too — and Maryland’s was unsightly.

Opposite a Memphis team determined to rebound from a shaky postseason opener, the Terps absorbed an 89-70 pounding Saturday in the second round at Sprint Center, providing a sour finish to a tumultuous season.

“I don’t think we came into the game with the same intensity as we played against Cal [in the first round],” guard Sean Mosley said. “It’s tough to take a loss like this. Down the stretch, everything was going good for us, with the ACC tournament and Cal. It just seemed they were prepared and they were ready to play.”

Greivis Vasquez scored 18 points for the 10th-seeded Terps (21-14), who lost their third consecutive second-round NCAA game. It was hardly an easy day for the junior guard, who was assessed a technical foul for jawing at an official in the second half and whose every mistake was cheered demonstrably by Memphis fans a day after Vasquez questioned the Tigers’ quality.

Tyreke Evans had 19 points for the second-seeded Tigers (33-3), who advanced to a West regional semifinal against the winner of Sunday’s Missouri-Marquette game and moved within a victory of their fourth consecutive Elite Eight appearance.

Consider Memphis a lock to achieve that feat if it shoots as well as it did against Maryland. While the Terps were not sharp, Saturday was very much about the Tigers’ dominance and superior athleticism.

Just two days after Memphis slogged through a scare against Cal State Northridge, the Tigers played like a team destined to land in Detroit next month for the Final Four. Memphis led 17-4 less than five minutes in, and the game was, at that point, effectively over. In some ways, it was a more blatant pounding than the drubbings Maryland took against Georgetown, Duke and Clemson.

“I thought we were past that,” forward Dino Gregory said.

Not quite.

The Tigers scorched Maryland in the first half whether the Terps stuck with a man defense or switched to a zone that had served them so well in the second half of the season. Memphis was 8-for-11 from long range in the opening 20 minutes while shooting 70.4 percent from the field as it built a 53-33 lead at halftime.

“I don’t think they ever shot the ball like that the whole year,” guard Eric Hayes said. “That’s one of those things where you have to give them credit for stepping up and making a lot of 3s. We didn’t do the best job of getting out on guys.”

The priority was preventing Evans from attacking the paint, a plan that didn’t work well with Doneal Mack (17 points) and Roburt Sallie (13 points) eager to take open shots from the perimeter. Antonio Anderson served as the middle man, dishing kickouts from Evans’ drives on his way to an 11-assist night.

“We gambled a little bit,” coach Gary Williams said. “They made some shots. We played good defense on some shots they did make. Others, we left them open.”

More often than Williams would care to admit. Maryland had summoned a few rallies in the final month of the season, scrapping its way into the postseason in surprising fashion. But the Tigers were a less-than-ideal matchup, an opponent capable of living above a rim Maryland was fortunate to touch more than a few times a game.

When that became the least of the Terps’ concerns, it was clear their season was over.

“We can’t do anything if we don’t play defense,” forward Landon Milbourne said. “That’s not how we usually play. I don’t think we were ready to play today.”

As a consequence, the Terps don’t have a tomorrow — or a chance to make another impression — for eight more months.

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