Terps deflated

Butler's threes, UM's shooting woes let air out of title dreams

Butler 62 Maryland 59

ncaa men's tournament

March 18, 2007|By Heather A. Dinich | Heather A. Dinich,Sun Reporter

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- They will be credited as the team that returned Maryland to the NCAA tournament after a two-year hiatus, and remembered for an impressive seven-game winning streak and an improbable comeback to end the regular season tied for third place in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Everyone within the program, though, wanted more, and the Terps had proved they were capable of it until yesterday's unexpected, 62-59 loss to sharpshooting Butler in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

"We had goals to finish more than .500 in the league; we had goals to make it to the tournament," senior forward Ekene Ibekwe said. "We accomplished those goals, but you want to get greedy. You definitely want to win as many games as you can. We didn't do that tonight. We didn't get the job done."

No. 5 seed Butler, which set school and Horizon League records with 29 wins, advanced to play the winner of today's game between No. 1 seed Florida and No. 9 seed Purdue on Friday in the Midwest Regional semifinals in St. Louis.

The Bulldogs will play in the Sweet 16 for just the second time in school history, with their last appearance coming in 2003.

"I think we've proven we can play with anybody," Butler forward Brandon Crone said.

No. 4 seed Maryland (25-9), which was averaging 79.6 points and had four starters averaging in double digits, couldn't match Butler's offense and made just seven of 15 free throws. The Bulldogs (29-6) made more three-pointers (12) than two-point baskets (11), and Maryland had its second-lowest point total of the season - the worst being 58 in a befuddling January loss to Miami.

"They did what they had to do," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, who is 23-11 in his 12 appearances with Maryland in the NCAA tournament. "They made their threes. That was the one thing we couldn't take away from them."

Butler controlled the tempo and extended its winning streak to 21 games when holding opponents under 60 points. Their points often came as the shot clock expired, and Maryland played catch-up for most of the second half.

The Terps used an 11-0 run capped by back-to-back three-pointers from senior guard Mike Jones to take a 36-34 lead with 15:55 left. It was their last lead of the game, but Maryland made one harried attempt at tying the game with 0.6 of a second left on the clock.

Butler guard Mike Green, a Towson transfer, made the first of two free throws with 3.6 seconds remaining to make it a three-point game. After an official review added just enough time on the clock for Maryland to execute a final play, Jones bobbled the inbounds pass and was unable to get off a game-tying shot attempt.

"It was a good pass; I just fumbled the ball a little bit," said Jones, who scored a game-high 21 points, making five of six three-pointers. "I think I was thinking more about the shot than catching the ball. Things like that happen when you're in a clutch position."

Williams said the loss will stick with him until practice for next season officially begins in the fall, but he hopes his players can let go of it sooner.

"Unless you win your last game, I think most coaches are the same way," he said. "It's back there until you start practicing next year around Oct. 14. You have to have it that way. That's part of the deal of being a coach at this level. That's what keeps you going to make you better each year."

While Jones and James Gist fulfilled the duty of facing the media after the game, senior guard D.J. Strawberry, often the team's most candid voice, sat in the locker room, red-eyed and crushed.

"This was all about us," he said. "We let this game get away. We're just going to have to live with that."

Strawberry said he had played with chest pains and a cold in the Terps' first-round win against Davidson, but said his illness wasn't a factor in an uncharacteristic performance yesterday. Strawberry, who led the team with 15.1 points per game, was held scoreless in the first half and finished with eight points and five turnovers.

He and freshman guard Greivis Vasquez combined to go 0-for-5 from the field in the first half.

Vasquez said he wasn't impressed by Butler, which was ranked for a school-record 16 weeks in the Associated Press poll.

"We could've done a better job than this," Vasquez said. "I don't think they're a great team. Maybe I don't know enough about basketball."

While Williams spoke positively of the foundation this season provided for the underclassmen, the six seniors on the roster seemed devastated.

"It's my last college game," Ibekwe said. "It doesn't get any tougher than that."

heather.dinich@baltsun.com

PLAY IT AGAIN

A recap of Maryland's 62-59 loss to Butler in the second round of the NCAA tournament: Key run -- The game was tied at 56 with 3:42 left, but Butler outscored Maryland 6-3 to win.

Power play -- After missing a layup, Butler guard A.J. Graves capitalized on his team's offensive rebound, went to the left side, got a pass from Mike Green and made a critical three-pointer that put the Bulldogs ahead 61-56 with 2:11 left in the game.

Quotable -- "It's not about who's better, who's more talented; it's about who gets it going, who's tough," Maryland freshman guard Greivis Vasquez said. "Honestly, they're no better a team than us. ... They just got it going by playing team ball."

Noteworthy numbers --Maryland is 0-6 when scoring 65 points or fewer this season, and the Terps have been eliminated by a No. 5 seed in each of their past two NCAA tournament appearances (2004 vs. Syracuse). The Terps were 7-for-15 from the free-throw line. Butler made 12 of 26 three-pointers.

Up next -- Butler will face the winner of today's game between No. 1 seed Florida and No. 9 seed Purdue on Friday in the Midwest Regional semifinals in St. Louis.

HEATHER A. DINICH

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