Again in clutch, it's Nicholas to the rescue

3 weeks after beating N.C. State with long three, guard rips another winner

Ncaa Tournament

March 22, 2003|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - There was a moment in the second half of Maryland's tournament matchup with North Carolina-Wilmington when Drew Nicholas lost his focus.

The Terps were in a shambles at the offensive end and Brett Blizzard was heating up at the other basket, where he drew a series of fouls from Nicholas. After one, the Maryland senior guard turned to some Seahawks hecklers and glared, but Nicholas's mind was right when it counted.

Nicholas made a three-pointer that beat North Carolina State in Raleigh three weeks ago that gave Gary Williams his 500th coaching victory. That will go down as a footnote in his career, however, because Nicholas provided the shining moment of the first round of this NCAA men's basketball tournament.

His three-pointer, which left his hand with four-tenths of a second remaining, lifted Maryland to a 75-73 victory that made Terps fans giddy and left UNC-Wilmington a tick of the clock from its second straight upset in a tournament opener.

"It still really hasn't set in yet," Nicholas said. "I remember talking to my brother before the game. Today is his 30th birthday, and hopefully that's good enough for him. It will sink in after the season. Tomorrow we've got to get ready to play Xavier."

Aaron Coombs, a poor free-throw shooter, made two with five seconds left to give UNC-Wilmington a one-point lead. Nicholas took the in bounds pass and went coast to coast before he made his stunning shot from the right wing.

The sequence was similar to one in which Brigham Young's Danny Ainge beat Notre Dame in the Sweet 16 in 1981, and another in which Tyus Edney keep UCLA's title drive alive by hitting a last-second layup that beat Missouri in 1995. It deserves to be replayed along with other frantic NCAA finishes, like the jumper from the top of the key that allowed Christian Laettner and Duke to top Kentucky in an overtime classic in the 1992 East Regional final.

"It seemed like he was in the air for 10 seconds," Blizzard said. "There's not much to say about it now."

Even before Nicholas got the last of his team-high 22 points, it was an historic evening. The Terps focused their defensive game plan on stopping Blizzard, the two-time Player of the Year in Colonial Athletic Association, but they were nearly undone by the three-point shooting of a freshman who was not considered a long-distance threat.

John Goldsberry made all eight of his three-point attempts, breaking the tournament record of 7-for-7 set by Baltimore's Sam Cassell for Florida State in 1993. Goldsberry had made 19 beyond the arc all season, and he was 1-for-3 in three CAA tournament games."

"This guy has made three shots a game all year," Williams said. "How can he beat us? By making eight threes. You've got to cheat on something, and Blizzard got most of our attention. Once you get into a game, you can talk about changing something during a time out, but it still goes back to the way they practiced."

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