ROCK HILL, S.C. -- Georgia Tech women's basketball coach Agnus Berenato is a firm believer in the saying, "Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we may die."
Those words surely became fast favorites on the Georgia Tech campus as soon as the Yellow Jackets stunned No. 4 Maryland, 68-67, at the buzzer yesterday in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference women's tournament.
Tech forward Joyce Pierce made a tip-in as time ran out to give the Yellow Jackets (15-12), who finished seventh in the regular season, their first win in 14 years of ACC tournament play.
"We might not go all the way, but we got today," said Berenato. "Today, we made history. It was the first time we ever got past the first round, and that was our goal."
Georgia Tech will meet Clemson in today's first semifinal. Clemson beat North Carolina State, 96-93 in overtime. Top-ranked Virginia advanced with an 81-55 victory over Duke; the Cavaliers will meet the winner of last night's North Carolina-Florida State game.
For Maryland, which six weeks ago sat at the summit of women's basketball, the loss was beyond description. The Terps have gone 3-4 since Feb. 11, when they took the nation's No. 1 ranking into a showdown against Virginia. Maryland lost that game and has struggled since. They are now off until the start of the NCAA tournament, March 18.
"We never looked past this game because we knew it was going to be tough. It was a tough break," said senior forward Dafne Lee.
It was the biggest upset in the tournament's 15-year history.
The Terps (23-5) led 60-43 with 7:38 left in the second half. They watched the Yellow Jackets climb back into the game, then win it with a bit of controversy at the very end.
Center Jessie Hicks, who had a team-high 21 points and 11 rebounds, made the first of a two-shot foul with 19 seconds left, but missed the second shot, giving Georgia Tech the chance to win on the last possession.
"It felt good, but it didn't go in. My release felt good, but I missed it. I missed it," said Hicks, who was in tears.
The Yellow Jackets worked the ball around the perimeter. Then they forced it into Pierce, their best player, who missed her first shot, then put up the offensive rebound.
"I was close to her," said Hicks. "I could have jumped at her and tried to block it."
The horn at the Winthrop Coliseum seemed to sound as Pierce (16 points) was launching her shot, and umpire Lawson Newton signaled that the basket counted.
However, lead official Bill Franklin ran in and waved the shot off, saying that the buzzer had beaten the attempt.
Then Franklin and Newton-- with players and both coaches huddled around -- checked with officials at the scorer's table who had been monitoring the play with a digital clock that measures in tenths of seconds. The officials found that Pierce's shot had come with .2 of a second remaining.
"I turned around because I knew the clock had run out," said Lee. "The next thing I know, she was shooting the ball up."
"I didn't think there was ever a question," said Berenato. "I said, 'Please don't do this [take away the basket]. I'll fight you and all my Italian buddies will fight you.' "
Maryland coach Chris Weller would not comment on the call.
Maryland, which went ahead 9-2 at the start, could never put Georgia Tech away. The Terps paid the price at the end: The Yellow Jackets closed the game with a 25-7 run, hitting outside and then inside.
In the last 1:30, Maryland, still leading by five points, threw away an inbounds pass. The Terps then watched guard Devony Caldwell, who had a career-high 27 points, hit a three-pointer and two foul shots off a foul by reserve guard Katrina Colleton to pull the Yellow Jackets to within three with 59 seconds left.
Reserve guard Carmen Davis stole the inbound pass and hit a three-pointer to tie the score at 66 with 51 seconds left.
"I had a decision to make," said Davis. "I could take the shot . . . or not take the shot and sit next to coach. I figured I'd much rather take the shot."
The Terps still had a chance to win. Hicks swung open on the succeeding possession but was fouled by Pierce, setting up her two free throws.
The Terps, who had won eight of the previous 14 ACC tournaments, had lost only once before in the first round. They had only themselves to blame for allowing a team they had beaten twice during the regular season to win.
"I think we played very hard, but Georgia Tech played a very nice game," said Weller. "Our execution looked a little ragged, and we had a lot of trouble with Tech's defense in the second half."
The game seemed to be the latest in a series of recent breakdowns for the Terps.
"It looked like they're playing not to lose," said Weller. "It might be something they've felt for the last two weeks. Obviously, they've felt a little pressure."
The Terps are likely out of the running for a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament.
"This loss is a highly motivating loss, more than any loss we've had this year," said Lee. "All we feel right now is emptiness, and inside that emptiness is this loss. This one is stamped on our foreheads."
GEORGIA TECH -- Caldwell 9-16 8-10 27, Echols 2-8 0-0 4, Pierce 8-19 0-0 16, Lounsbury 2-5 0-2 5, Baldwin 2-3 0-0 5, Keener 2-5 0-0 4, Davis 1-3 1-2 4, Kauffman 0-2 3-4 3, Weiss 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 26-62 12-18 68.
MARYLAND -- Andrews 6-9 4-5 16, Boles 4-11 5-6 13, Hicks 9-17 3-4 21, Mizrachi 0-1 0-0 0, Lee 2-4 2-3 6, Ferguson 0-0 1-2 1, Colleton 2-3 2-2 6, Christy 2-7 0-0 4, Rimkus 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-52 17-22 67.
Halftime--Maryland 34, Georgia Tech 28. 3-point goals--Georgia Tech 4-7 (Baldwin 1-1, Davis 1-1, Lounsbury 1-2, Cladwell 1-3), Maryland 0-3 (Mizrachi 0-1, Boles 0-2). Fouled out--None. Rebounds--Georgia Tech 31 (Cladwell 9), Maryland 37 (Hicks 11). Assists--Georgia Tech 15 (Davis 5), Maryland 17 (Boles 6). Total fouls--Georgia Tech 18, Maryland 17. A--NA