Heels trip up Terps' hopes

UM stumbles with chance to solidify an NCAA berth

Finale is `definitely a must-win'

Jones' potential tying shot blocked in final seconds

North Carolina 85, Maryland 83

February 28, 2005|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - With one violent swat, North Carolina's Sean May erased a gritty Maryland effort and put the Terrapins' season on the brink.

May's block of Mike Jones' drive with about two seconds left preserved the second-ranked Tar Heels' 85-83 victory last night in front of 17,950 at Comcast Center and put the Terps into a virtual must-win situation in their regular-season finale at Virginia Tech on Saturday.

A win in Blacksburg - where the Hokies are 11-3 - likely gets the Terps (16-10 overall, 7-8 Atlantic Coast Conference) an invitation to their 12th straight NCAA tournament. A loss would mean Maryland goes into the ACC tournament probably needing to win one game - possibly two - to avoid being bound for the National Invitation Tournament.

"We're not supposed to be in this situation," said junior guard Chris McCray, who had 25 points, six rebounds and five assists and made a career-high five three-pointers.

The Terps' second straight loss and third in their past four games dropped them into a sixth-place tie with Miami. It was a game that despite trailing by 10 at halftime and by eight with 3:33 to go, the Terps thought they could - perhaps should - have won.

With Maryland down 85-83 with less than seven seconds to play, Jones, who had hit a three-pointer to give his team its first lead of the second half about a minute and a half earlier, beat his man off the dribble but May came in and blocked his shot from about seven feet out. The ball bounced into Jackie Manuel's hands as the buzzer sounded.

"We had a pretty good isolation there, and May made a great play," said Terps coach Gary Williams, who said his team got the shot he was looking for.

Said May, who helped North Carolina improve to 24-3 and 12-2 in the ACC: "I knew [Jones] didn't have enough time to pass it. It was the game-deciding play."

To Terps point guard John Gilchrist, May's block was a "crushing blow." To Williams, the game could stand as a microcosm of the Terps' up-and-down season. Facing a team without its top scorer - Rashad McCants missed his second straight game because of illness - Maryland led at the midpoint of the first half before watching the Tar Heels close the half on a 21-7 run.

Williams ran into the tunnel at halftime, barking at Gilchrist (13 points), who shot an off-balance three-pointer about seven seconds before the halftime buzzer instead of holding for the last shot. The Tar Heels rebounded the miss and found a streaking David Noel for the dunk just before the buzzer sounded to give the Tar Heels a 47-37 lead at halftime. "It's amazing how that can come back and haunt you in a close game," Williams said. "We worked on that hard this week, how to play at the end of the half. We didn't get it done out there.

"Close isn't good enough this time of year," Williams said later. "That's a great team, but it's a team if you're playing at home, you feel like you have a good shot to beat."

The ACC-leading Tar Heels seemed to be on verge of breaking the game open in the second half, but the Terps' bench wouldn't let it happen. May was in control for much of the game, scoring 22 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. Meanwhile, three of the Terps' top inside players - Travis Garrison, Ekene Ibekwe and Will Bowers - had just seven points and seven rebounds combined.

But Williams went to freshman forward James Gist (eight points, seven rebounds) to start the second half and, as Williams put it, he "got us started." Then, Jones hit two straight three-pointers, pulling the Terps within 63-61 at the 11:23 mark.

Reserve point guard Sterling Ledbetter tied the game at 65, but after Jones made his third three-pointer to pull the Terps within one, Maryland committed turnovers on four straight possessions.

Just as quickly as they got back into the game, the Terps trailed 80-72 on a dunk by May with 3:33 remaining. But Gilchrist and McCray hit three-pointers and then Jones got a good roll on a three-pointer that gave Maryland an 81-80 lead with 1:29 to go.

"Shooter's touch, I guess," said Jones, who had all 12 of his points in the last 12 1/2 minutes of the game. "I was definitely feeling it."

North Carolina senior Jawad Williams (21 points) then answered with a long three-pointer before Ibekwe tied the game at 83 on a tip-in with 41 seconds to play.

The Terps then needed a stop, but North Carolina point guard Raymond Felton got free from Gilchrist, who had no help on the play, on a screen-and-roll, and converted the layup with 19 seconds left.

"It was screen-and-roll, patented Carolina, but we just didn't get our rotation," Gil- christ said.

The Terps then watched their last chance get swatted away by May. Later, Williams talked about the lost opportunity and, for the first time all season, alluded to the prospects of next season, saying "we got everybody back and we could be a very good basketball team as time goes by."

Gilchrist, who wouldn't comment when asked whether this was his last home game at Maryland, mentioned he was proud of his teammates for their effort. Junior forward Nik Caner-Medley (16 points) didn't want to hear that.

"A lot of guys are talking about how they feel good we fought back," Caner-Medley said. "That's great, but I am pretty upset we just lost this game. I feel like if we would have done a few things differently, we would have beat them."

Now, any margin of error has disappeared for the Terps, who have nearly a week to prepare for the Hokies.

"It is definitely a must-win game," Jones said.

ACC standings

Conf. Over.

Team W L W L

North Carolina 12 2 24 3

Wake Forest 11 3 24 4

Duke 10 4 21 4

Georgia Tech 7 7 16 9

Virginia Tech 7 7 14 11

Maryland 7 8 16 10

Miami 7 8 16 10

N.C. State 6 8 16 11

Virginia 4 10 13 12

Clemson 4 10 14 13

Florida State 3 11 11 17

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