Off-balance three pushes teetering UM over the edge

Nicholas and Dixon miss after Hodge's unlikely shot

North Carolina State 86, Maryland 82

March 10, 2002|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - In the final 90 seconds of North Carolina State's 86-82 victory over Maryland, three players took NBA-range jump shots.

Two of the shots - from Drew Nicholas and Juan Dixon of Maryland - seemed to have plausible chances of going in. They missed.

The third - from N.C. State's Julius Hodge - looked nothing like anything a shot doctor would prescribe. Of course, it went in.

"I don't mind a guy taking a nice-looking shot," a resigned Gary Williams said after his top-seeded team was upset in the Atlantic Coast Conference semifinals, "but that was unbelievable."

Such was Maryland's luck yesterday: being adequate but not quite good enough to answer this particular game's challenges from a team it had beaten twice, a team that was shooting 65 percent in the second half.

While the Terrapins were so unlike themselves - relying on Steve Blake's 21 points as their most reliable offensive firepower and getting so-so performances from the team's inside players - the Wolfpack displayed impeccable shooting for the second game in a row, hitting 11 three-pointers yesterday after 13 against Virginia on Friday.

Off-balance, Hodge's jumper was taken about 23 feet away, Nicholas draped over him. The lead was at stake, a charging Maryland team cutting it from 13 to three.

Oh yeah, and the shot clock was about to run out, as his team's fans kept telling him.

"When I looked at the rim, I saw one second," he said. "Why not throw it up? This is March Madness. I had to make the shot."

So, with all the deliberation of someone who picks his winners for the NCAA tournament by school color, Hodge threw the ball up from the right wing, and the line drive went in, giving his team some much-needed breathing room and an 84-78 lead with 1:17 left to play.

"Great players do that," N.C. State coach Herb Sendek said. "Obviously that is not a part of our offense, but we'll take it."

When told of Hodge's claim that Nicholas' hand was on his shooting arm, Nicholas, a Long Island native, wrinkled his face skeptically before he said, "Us guys from New York know how to exaggerate," referring to Hodge's Bronx roots.

Baskets by Lonny Baxter and Blake and a bad pass by Anthony Grundy set the stage for long-range heroics from Maryland, which trailed 85-82 with 20 seconds left.

That's when Nicholas got his chance, taking the ball at a spot similar to where he got it twice during the Terrapins' comeback against Virginia on Jan. 31. Of course, he drained both from about six feet beyond the top of the key, and Maryland won.

This time, he missed the shot and the ball went out of bounds.

"I was pretty sure. It felt good coming out of my hand," Nicholas said. "Players have to take those kind of shots, and I'll take it again."

The same sentiment belonged to Dixon, whose attempt from the left wing also missed, going short and falling out of bounds despite Nicholas' effort to retrieve it.

That was Maryland's last gasp, with Grundy hitting a free throw in the last three seconds to seal the game.

"I thought it was a good look," Dixon said. "I probably could have gotten closer, but I missed. Next time, I'll hit it and take it from there."

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