Nicholas beats buzzer

UM escapes Wilmington, 75-73, as senior Terp hits last 3 of his 22 points

Champs barely reach 2nd round

Goldsberry is 8-for-8 on three-pointers for 11th-seeded CAA champs

NCAA Tournament

March 22, 2003|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The Maryland Terrapins are still defending NCAA champions. Barely.

Senior shooting guard Drew Nicholas made a game-winning three-point shot as time expired to give the Terps a 75-73 victory over the UNC-Wilmington Seahawks in a thrilling first-round South Regional game at the Gaylord Entertainment Center last night.

Maryland, the regional's sixth seed, narrowly avoided becoming the first defending national champion to lose in the first round of the NCAA tournament since 1996, when UCLA went down against Princeton.

Nicholas, who scored a team-high 22 points, took an inbounds pass, dribbled some 60 feet up the court while weaving to his right and threw up a one-handed runner just after backup Seahawks center Aaron Coombs had made two free throws to give 11th-seeded UNC-Wilmington a 73-72 lead with five seconds left.

The Terps, who blew a 57-47 second-half lead and overcame a three-point shooting show by Seahawks freshman guard John Goldsberry, the hot second-half shooting of senior guard Brett Blizzard and foul trouble that limited senior point guard Steve Blake to 22 minutes of action, will face No. 3 seed Xavier in the second round tomorrow.

Goldsberry, who came into the game averaging 4.2 points and had made just 19 three-pointers on the season, was a one-man zone destroyer for the Seahawks, who otherwise could not solve the 3-2 alignment Maryland employed for most of the game's final 27 minutes. Goldsberry finished with a game-high 26 points and made all eight of his three-point attempts. The Seahawks converted 13 of 29 three-point shots.

But the Seahawks could not stop Nicholas from making his second game-winning shot in three weeks. He hit a three with one second left in a victory at North Carolina State.

"The play we drew up, we really wanted to get the ball in Steve's hands so he could try and create something," Nicholas said. "They did a good job of defending him, so I just came up and grabbed the ball [on the inbounds play]. I took it as far as I could and tried to make something happen. I know the shot didn't look the prettiest, but it went in. I really couldn't believe it went through."

The shot looked just fine to Maryland coach Gary Williams, who said: "I don't know if there's been a bigger shot because it's an NCAA tournament game. Drew is a smart guy. He did a great job knowing where the clock was. It was a one-hander, a throwback shot. But he was square to the basket."

The game officials briefly reviewed Nicholas' shot to make sure it had been released before the game's end.

"There was no doubt in my mind," said Blake, who had made a 25-footer with 20 seconds left from the left corner to give Maryland a short-lived, 72-71 lead. "I was underneath the basket. I knew it was out of his hands before I heard the buzzer.

"We've been down before this year, and we've always fought back. We just put it into another gear and do anything we can to win the game."

Maryland (20-9) had other heroes. Senior center Ryan Randle shook off a recent slump with his best game in a month by scoring 15 points and grabbing a game-high 16 rebounds. Blake, who committed his fourth foul two minutes into the second half and watched most of the game from the bench after that, rallied to hit another clutch three and finished with seven assists and no turnovers.

"We were fortunate to win that game," said Williams, whose Terps also registered their school-record seventh straight 20-victory season. "I have some great seniors who have been through most of the tough situations you could get into. We called on that tonight, and they came through.

"We looked like we were dead with about 1:20 left [and trailing, 71-67], but we refused to buy into that. We didn't play well the last couple of weeks of the season, and to turn it around at the end of the game, that was special."

Goldsberry was the only UNC-Wilmington shooter unfazed by the Terps' otherwise effective 3-2 zone. While the rest of the Seahawks missed 13 of their first 14 shots in the second half, Goldsberry was perfect. He hit his first eight three-point attempts, including five straight in the second half, and single-handedly kept the Seahawks within striking distance.

Even though the Terps lost Blake to foul trouble early in the second half, that didn't stop them from taking a 57-47 lead with 15:40 left. But Maryland, which held Blizzard and senior center Craig Callahan - the Seahawks' top two scorers - to a combined 25 points on 7-for-30 shooting, could not stop Goldsberry. His fourth three of the half cut Maryland's lead to 59-56 with 10:54 to go.

Following a three-pointer by Nicholas, Goldsberry made his fifth shot of the half from beyond the arc to cut the Terps' lead to 62-59. Then, Blizzard, who was struggling with five points on 2-for-10 shooting, finally warmed up by making back-to-back threes in the face of Maryland's zone, giving the Seahawks a 65-62 lead with 4:50 left.

The Terps missed a series of layups during the game's final six minutes, as they desperately tried to catch UNC-Wilmington. Blizzard made his third consecutive three to make it 68-63 with 3:34 left. Nicholas countered with a three to cut it to 68-66.

Then, after Randle converted three of four free throws to cut the lead to 71-69 with 41.5 seconds left, Seahawks guard Joel Justus missed the front end of a one-and-one, giving Blake the chance to put Maryland on top with 20 seconds left.

Coombs followed by making two free throws to put UNC-Wilmington back in front, 73-72. That left the Terps with one last chance to live for one more day, and Nicholas delivered.

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