COLLEGE PARK -- The final minute seemed all too familiar for Maryland yesterday. A big lead gone, a big crowd at Cole Field House stunned to near-silence, another chance at a big upset seemingly about to pass the Terrapins by.
But Maryland was able to change the ending. What the Terps couldn't do recently against top-ranked Duke and Georgia Tech, what they couldn't do earlier this season against Wake Forest, they did to 10th-ranked North Carolina.
On a tip-in by Walt Williams with 1.3 seconds remaining and a subsequent free throw by Williams with .1 of a second remaining, Maryland overtook the Tar Heels, 82-80, after losing all of its 22-point halftime lead.
"It's a great day for Maryland basketball," said Gary Williams, drained by the nerve-racking finish and elated by the biggest victory in his three seasons as head coach. "It's a great day for me personally. When you build a program, you obviously look at the Carolinas of the world and see how they got it done."
To understand how Maryland (12-13, 4-10) got it done yesterday, you must start with Walt Williams, who had team-high totals of 28 points and eight rebounds. But, as has happened during many of Maryland's better wins this season, you don't end with the 6-foot-8 senior. He might have beaten North Carolina (18-7, 8-6) with the winning shot, but he had plenty of help getting there.
All seven who played had a hand in this upset. Evers Burns provided Williams some help offensively with 22 points, 13 in the first half, when the Terps shot 20 of 28 and built a 51-29 lead. And then there were the less obvious heroes.
Chris Kerwin had five of Maryland's 10 blocks, including a couple of major-league facials on 7-foot Eric Montross, and scored his only basket of the game on a dunk with 58 seconds to go. Vince Broadnax forced Hubert Davis into 9-for-22 shooting. Point guard Kevin McLinton kept the Terps from folding.
"We knew we could win this game coming in," said McLinton, who finished with 12 points and seven assists. "When we had the big lead, we knew they were going to come back. This takes a lot of tension off after losing like we did at Duke [91-89]. It's happened four, five, six times this year, but today we were able to hold on."
"I feel better now than I did at halftime, but I have felt better leaving Cole Field House," said North Carolina coach Dean Smith, who left after the Tar Heels lost their fourth straight for the first time since 1965. "We are disappointed to have played so well in the second half not to have won."
It didn't appear that Maryland would hold on. The Tar Heels took several shots at the Terps, and the final one produced an 80-79 lead on a three-point play by Davis with 18.5 seconds to play. His 12-footer in the lane -- he got bumped by Broadnax -- hit the back rim twice before falling. His free throw nearly spun out.
While a crowd of 13,224 -- the second non-sellout on the road for North Carolina in the ACC this season, the other coming at Clemson -- got nervous, the Terps merely got upset. At least, Gary Williams did.
"I think we got mad. I know I got mad, not at the players, but at the situation," he said. "Walt had great resolve on that last play."
Walt Williams, who had thrown a pass over McLinton's head and out of bounds with 33.6 seconds to go and Maryland ahead 79-77, probably envisioned hitting the game-winning shot. Maybe a three-pointer, maybe a dunk, maybe even a short jumper. But not a tip-in. Certainly not a tip of his own missed shot.
After not being able to get the ball to Williams, Burns took the shot. It was a shot he had hit several times yesterday, a pull-up jumper in the lane. With two North Carolina players coming at him, Burns missed from 12 feet, but tipped the rebound to Kerwin. Walt Williams yanked the ball away from his teammate, went up for a layup, and missed with four seconds left. He went back up and tipped it in.
"I went up too quickly," Williams said of his first miss, which wedged momentarily between the rim and the basket before falling back into his hands. "When I hit the ground, I went back up. It felt great when it went in. We knew that it was going to be a dogfight in the second half. We just buckled down and did what we had to do to win."
The time clock ran out, but the time didn't. Unlike last month against Georgia Tech, when the Terps lost after .2 of a second remained on the clock with the score tied, 1.3 seconds were put back on the clock. George Lynch sailed an inbounds pass over Davis' head and out of bounds. Then McLinton got the ball inbounds to Williams, who was fouled. This time, there was .1 of a second left.
As Smith went over to Gary Williams to concede, the Maryland coach had a few choice words for the timekeeper. But the celebration that began prematurely started again when, after Williams made the first free throw and intentionally missed the second, Lynch's length-of-the-court heave fell five feet short. The students stormed the court, swallowing up the players.
"I don't know if it's the biggest win we've had since I've been here, but it's the most emotional," McLinton said. "With it being Carolina, with them coming from 22 points behind to take the lead, with Walt getting the tip-in, it's a great day for the team, the school and the community."
Not to mention the coach. After so many heartbreaking defeats this season, after the disappointments of losing blue-chip recruits while Maryland serves out the last season of its NCAA probation, this was a victory to savor. Gary Williams knew how close his team came to another disappointment.
"I was pleased we got a break at the end," he said. "It's the first time we got a break at the end. It seems like everything has been going the other way."