No shame in this loss

Three seniors led Terps comeback, return to prominence

March 21, 2010|By Kevin Cowherd

Unbelievable comeback. Unbelievable ending. Unbelievable heart shown by two terrific teams.

Back-up guard Korie Lucious ended Maryland's season today with a dagger, a three-pointer at the buzzer that gave Michigan State an 85-83 win in the second round of the NCAA Tournament's Midwest Regional.

So there will be no Sweet 16 appearance for the Terps, something they had pointed to all season and something they hadn't done since 2003.

But there was no shame in going out like this.

Sure, Gary Williams has a few more gray hairs and dark circles under his eyes today. And he might need a couple of days to get his blood pressure under control after those frantic last few seconds, when Greivis Vasquez's spinning layup put the Terps up, 83-82 with six seconds left before Lucious's jumper at the top of the key buried them for good.

But this was a comeback for the ages, a game that will be talked about by Maryland players and fans for years to come.

"We beat a very, very well-coached team and a great player in Vasquez," Spartans coach Tom Izzo said.

Yes, they did. Michigan State, showing incredible guts with team leader Kalin Lucas sidelined with an ankle injury, was lucky to survive.

And it brought a screeching halt to a wonderful Maryland season: 24-9, a share of the regular-season Atlantic Coast Conference title, an ACC Player of the Year award for the gritty Vasquez and an ACC Coach of the Year award for Williams, who has shown, at age 65, that he can still summon the best from his players.

Now Maryland fans are left to wonder what Terps basketball will be like without the three gritty seniors who have carried this team for so long: Vasquez, Eric Hayes and Landon Milbourne.

It's hard to imagine the Terps playing next season without the incomparable Vasquez, who was given a prominent role as a freshman and wound up as one of the greatest players in Maryland history.

Sure, he could make you tear out your hair with some of his crazy shots and some of his crazy passes.

And there were times when you just shook your head at his antics on the court, especially last season, when he took to trash-talking the fans at away games and cursing out the student section at Comcast Center for booing the Maryland players.

But when the Terps needed a big basket in a big game, most of the time Vasquez was money.

How about the 3-pointer from the left corner he hit with 1:19 remaining yesterday to pull Maryland to within 80-79?

How about the weaving layup with 38 seconds left to make it 81-80 Maryland, the Terps first lead since early in the game?

He finished with 26 points and scored nine of Maryland's last 11 points in the last two minutes.

Vasquez was a leader. He wanted the ball in the final seconds and he came through. That's the ultimate sign of a great player.

I don't care whether he's good enough to play in the NBA, or whether he ends up playing in Europe or Asia or wherever.

I'll miss watching him play in College Park. I'll miss his passion for the game.

Sure, Vasquez had his haters. But they were mostly people who fixated on his erratic plays and failed to appreciate his great plays and there were far more of those, believe me.

If you're a Terps fans and you're not sorry to see Vasquez go, there's something wrong with you.

So Vasquez leaves, and so does Hayes, the steady guard who scored 29 points in the last two games and Milbourne, the quiet, under-appreciated forward, who added 30.

Sure, losing them hurts. But it's not as if they leave Williams' program in shambles.

Sophomore guard Sean Mosely, the St. Frances kid who improved so much this season, returns and so do junior guards Adrian Bowie and Cliff Tucker, who played so well off the bench for the Terps.

And maybe the best news of all for Maryland fans is that freshman Jordan Williams will be back, too.

The 6-foot-10 big man from Torrington, Conn., had a terrific rookie season in the pressure cauldron of the ACC. And his career-high 21 points and 19 rebounds Friday night against Houston were the main reason Maryland made it to the second round of this year's tournament.

So Maryland has something to build on for next season.

In the meantime, as Vasquez said after today's game, the Terps have to be proud of the way they finished against Michigan State.

Unbelievable comeback. Unbelievable heart.

Only the final score was disappointing.

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