Terps End 'Embarrassing' Season With Early Exit

Sterling Ledbetter leads Maryland off the court after the Terps' season comes to a close with their third home loss to a nonconference foe in 119 games.
Sterling Ledbetter leads Maryland off the court after the Terps' season comes to a close with their third home loss to a nonconference foe in 119 games. (By Joel Richardson -- The Washington Post)
By Preston Williams
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 19, 2006

All week, the Maryland men's basketball players and coaches stewed about not earning an at-large berth for the NCAA tournament. Yesterday on their home court in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament, the Terrapins did little to impress the sel ection committee of either event.

Maryland, the top seed in the East Region, came out semi-interested, fell behind by 14 in the second half and made a late, ragged surge before falling, 87-84, to ninth-seed Manhattan in front of an occasionally roused 4,761 at Comcast Center.

Manhattan had nine three-pointers and six fewer turnovers, which helped offset the Terrapins' 55-35 rebounding advantage, but the pesky Jaspers did not cruise. They missed the front ends of three one-and-ones during a 32-second span of the final minute-and-a-half, and four of their players fouled out.

The Maryland basketball program had initially declined the NIT bid last Sunday night before learning that the school had committed to hosting a tournament game. The disappointment of not reaching the NCAA tournament appeared to bleed into yesterday's game, an 11 a.m. tip-off that took place with most Maryland students away on spring break.

Manhattan, upset in the first round of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament after winning that league's regular season title, recovered from its derailed NCAA hopes with more spunk, beating Fairleigh Dickinson on Tuesday in the NIT.

"Obviously, we wanted to be in the NCAA tournament, and I think we probably would have played better if we were," said Maryland senior forward Nik Caner-Medley, who left the floor to a nice ovation after he fouled out in his final game. "It's definitely embarrassing. . . . But this whole year is embarrassing."

Said Maryland Coach Gary Williams: "You have to find that [focus] from within. We didn't do it. You can feel sorry for yourself, but when it comes time to play, really, no other school in the country cares whether we win this game or not. It's up to us."

Down 82-70 with 3 minutes 20 seconds left, the Terrapins (19-13) pulled to within 82-79 on two free throws by junior guard Mike Jones with 1:12 to play. Twice thereafter, the Jaspers (20-10) missed front ends of one-and-ones, but Maryland could not take advantage.

"When you get behind like that, you're hoping," said Williams, who lost at home to a nonconference team for just the third time in 119 games. "I hate to coach hoping: I hope we make the shot. I hope we make a good play here. Just play."

Manhattan sophomore forward Franck Traore, who had played 29 minutes all season, late in the game was dislodged from the bench because of his team's foul trouble. In the last 32 seconds, he grabbed two key rebounds and made both of his foul shots. He was 0 for 2 from the line for the season before yesterday.

Reserve forward Travis Garrison, one of three departing seniors, had 21 points and 12 rebounds to lead Maryland, his first double-figure scoring game since early January.

"I didn't want to go out like this," Garrison said. "If you're a basketball player, regardless of any situation, when you step on the basketball court you should want to play your hardest. It's a pride thing."

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