Miami bursts Terps' bubble in ACC opener

One-and-done Maryland seeks new streak in NCAAs

Miami 67 No. 17 Maryland 62

College basketball

March 09, 2007|By Heather A. Dinich | Heather A. Dinich,Sun Reporter

Tampa, Fla. -- No. 17 Maryland spent nearly a month proving it was a legitimate contender for the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament title, but in a matter of 40 inexplicable minutes yesterday, the worst team in the league knocked the surging Terps off their perch and sent them home on the first day.

The lone consolation from the 67-62 loss to 12th-seeded Miami was that for the first time in three seasons, the next game Maryland plays will be in the NCAA tournament.

"It's a wake-up call," senior guard D.J. Strawberry said. "We have to get back to playing how we play. We've got a week to fix this. We've got a week to focus and get ready. This has to be the most important thing in our life right now, or we're going to be going home after one game again."

Instead of sticking around to play as many as four games in four days - what seemed to be a reasonable scenario - the fifth-seeded Terps (24-8) caught an 8 p.m. flight back to Baltimore.

"We'll work on this and we'll be a better team next week than we were today," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, who remained calm and patient after the game, even lingering in the locker room to further explain the loss to reporters. "I'm proud of these guys and that's not going to change. You learn. Basketball is a good game to learn from. We'll learn from today and we'll be a pretty good team next week."

Maryland entered the postseason on a seven-game winning streak and seemed on the verge of something special. Leading up to the first round, players all but swore they wouldn't lose to the Hurricanes again, not after an embarrassing January effort in which the Terps played probably their worst game of the season.

Even Miami coach Frank Haith conceded that his win yesterday was unexpected. The Hurricanes (12-19) finished last in the league and lost three players to injury and one to a suspension.

But Miami has remained competitive, in large part because of Baltimore native and former Calvert Hall standout Jack McClinton, who scored a game-high 17 points yesterday.

"We never gave up," said McClinton, who leads the Hurricanes in scoring (16.8 points per game) and the league in three-point shooting percentage (.437). "We knew that we might have had a bad season, but we had a tournament to play in, and we just wanted to come out and play hard and good things would happen."

Haith called the Terps "the hottest team in our league, maybe one of the hottest teams in the country."

They were.

Praise was lavished upon the Terps from all corners of the country, and Williams said that might have had an effect on some of the younger players.

"It was there in that we had to work really hard for 3 1/2 weeks and then all of a sudden we're the ninth RPI [Rating Percentage Index] team in the country by the NCAA, ranked in both polls and all that," he said. "There's a tendency when you're young to enjoy that too much rather than stay focused on the job at hand."

Maryland was impatient in the first half, struggled against the zone and played into Miami's hands by shooting jump shots first instead of working the ball inside-out, the way the Terps do best. They trailed 37-24 at the break and decided in the locker room to change back into the sneakers they had worn all season instead of the shiny new red ones they got for the postseason.

"We didn't like the way we were playing in them," Strawberry said, "so we got rid of them."

It didn't quite work. A 15-point deficit in the second half was too much to overcome, although Maryland came close.

A dunk by James Gist - whose key shots down the stretch gave the Terps a fighting chance - put Maryland within one point with 23 seconds to play. Miami's Brian Asbury made his final four free throws of the game, though, while Maryland finished 0-for-3 from the field and freshman guard Greivis Vasquez turned the ball over with four seconds left.

"I don't think we wanted it enough," said Vasquez, who sat dejectedly in the somber locker room. "I'm really disappointed in myself right now. I've got to learn from my mistakes."

The Terps were 3-for-18 from three-point range, and Strawberry and Vasquez combined to make 10 of the team's 16 turnovers.

"We were probably so used to it being - I wouldn't say easy - but everything flowing the right way for us at times and today it just wasn't flowing," said Strawberry, who finished with 13 points after averaging 17.1 through the seven-game winning streak. "It just wasn't there today. We have to get it back, real quick."

Maryland made a concerted effort to improve its rebounding during the second half of the season, and did, but was out-rebounded by eight yesterday.

"Rebounding, that's a team thing," said senior Ekene Ibekwe, who fouled out with 2:01 left to play. "Everybody has to get in there. It can't be one or two people. It's part of defense. That's something we didn't do. It's something we should've learned from the last time we played them."

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