Maurice Creek had finished his postgame television interview when he bounded through the Verizon Center tunnel, pointer fingers shooting into the lower bowl, high-fiving fans who draped over the railings.
The local product had come home for one final college season, dreaming of moments like this, when he made a step-back jumper with six-tenths of a second remaining to lift George Washington to a wild 77-75 win over Maryland in Sunday’s BB&T Classic.
“A crazy good shot,” Terrapins forward Jon Graham said.
The heroics of Creek, from Oxon Hill, were only necessary after the Colonials blew a 14-point second-half lead.
The Terps made their charge without leading scorer Dez Wells, who fouled out with six minutes left. Maryland’s frantic full-court press rattled GW, forcing it into eight turnovers in the final four minutes.
The Terps appeared in control late, after so much had gone wrong for them early.
After an embarrassing loss at Ohio State on Wednesday, Maryland (5-4) needed to rebound on its return to the area.
George Washington (8-1), receiving votes in both national polls, presented a formidable challenge, and Maryland’s ACC opener against Boston College looms shortly after.
So before one practice this week, Wells called a players-only meeting in the locker room and discussed how something — anything, really — needed to change.
At first, nothing changed. With three minutes until intermission, the Terps were losing by 14 points, behind again after another languid start. Haphazard ball security turned into easy Colonials layups. The porous defense didn’t get better in the second half, when George Washington seemed to answer every basket with a low-post bucket by Isaiah Armwood (11 points, 12 rebounds) or a floater from Kethan Savage (14 points) or any variety of shots from Creek (25 points), who transferred from Indiana for his graduate season.
“I have no idea,” Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon said. “If I knew, we wouldn’t keep doing it. . . . Some of the mistakes are just mind-boggling to me. I can handle missed shots as long as we’re doing the other stuff well, if the shots are good. It’s hard with that. I don’t know what it is.”
So Turgeon begged the bench to cheer. He ripped off his jacket and earned a technical foul, so furious after a whistle on guard Nick Faust that Wells needed to guide him back into the huddle. But it wasn’t until Turgeon called for the press that Maryland finally gained meaningful ground, even without Wells (16 points) on the floor. Varun Ram, who started his first Division I college game, and Faust both hit three-pointers. Freshman Roddy Peters scooped a layup, got fouled and hit the free throw. Suddenly, the lead was five.
“We thought we had this one,” Maryland forward Jake Layman (13 points) said. “If it went to overtime, we knew we had them because they had no idea what to do against our press.”
A tip-in by Charles Mitchell tied it at 73, then Creek and Peters traded free throws to make it 75-75. That’s when GW Coach Mike Lonergan called a timeout and planned to give the basketball to Joe McDonald, who had made 9 of 11 free throws at that juncture. Then Creek spoke up.
“I want the ball,” Creek told his coach. He repeated it two more times, “in a respectful way” as Lonergan phrased it later. “I want the ball.”
So the Colonials jogged onto the court with 8.1 seconds left and inbounded to Creek, who slowly walked up the floor, staring down Faust. Turgeon wanted Peters to double-team Creek, but didn’t mention it during the timeout and couldn’t signal the freshman in time.
At the three-point line, Creek crossed over and charged hard, then abruptly stopped. Faust stumbled, if only slightly. But that little move generated enough room for Creek to hop back, rise up and win the game.
“I thought it was short when he shot it,” Turgeon said.
“Once the ball left his hands,” Lonergan said, standing in the same tunnel Creek had sprinted though, “I knew it was going in.”