By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 18, 2007
BUFFALO, March 17 -- Maryland's season will be remembered for the late-season turnaround that enabled the Terrapins to make a resplendent return to the NCAA tournament as a No. 4 seed.
But the season's final minute will be remembered for the maddening sequence of events that abruptly concluded the year with a 62-59 loss to fifth-seeded Butler in the second round of the NCAA tournament at HSBC Arena. A controversial charging call, a critical lost rebound and a bobbled ball all culminated in a loss Coach Gary Williams won't soon shake from his psyche.
"Until practice starts October 14," he said, "this game will be there."
What made the loss so frustrating for Maryland was that the Terrapins (25-9) were in position to advance to the round of 16 for the first time since 2003 even though Butler, one of the nation's most disciplined teams, dictated the tempo for much of the game by limiting possessions.
"It's just sad," freshman Greivis Vasquez said. "You don't want to talk about this. I don't want to talk about this."
In the end, the Terrapins uncharacteristically unraveled. They struggled mightily at the free throw line, making 7 of 15 attempts. They dominated the rebounding battle, 37-23, but failed to get critical rebounds in the closing minutes. And with a chance to tie in the final seconds with a three-pointer, Maryland got the ball to the right player, but he fumbled it away.
With 0.6 of a second on the clock, Maryland's Dave Neal inbounded the ball near midcourt and found three-point ace Mike Jones, who had already made five three-pointers. Jones had a glimmer of space but couldn't secure the pass. He later said he had thought about the shot before the catch.
"We let this game get away," D.J. Strawberry said, "and we're going to have to live with that."
Trailing by two with 41 seconds remaining, Maryland opted to play tight defense and force a missed shot rather than put the Bulldogs on the free throw line. Williams said he made that choice because "you plan on getting that rebound."
With no player taller than 6 feet 7, Butler was one of the nation's least accomplished rebounding teams this season. But when Butler's Julian Betko misfired on a three-point attempt, 6-foot Mike Green was in perfect position in front of the basket to grab the rebound with seven seconds left. Green was not even supposed to be in position to make the play, he said, because he was supposed to be back on defense.
Maryland had a chance to tie the game moments earlier, but D.J. Strawberry was called for a charge near the basket. James Gist dropped the ball off to Strawberry, whose shoulder collided with Brandon Crone.
Williams declined to comment on the call because "we need the money at Maryland," referring to the fine he would be assessed if he criticized officials.
The game saw an unfortunate ending for Strawberry, who developed into the face of the team this season. On Saturday, Strawberry scored all eight of his points in the second half and committed five turnovers. He made 3 of 10 shots.
Strawberry took responsibility for his play and said he was not hampered by a cold.
Butler improved to 21-0 when holding opponents to less than 60 points and looked like the mid-major powerhouse from November that won the Preseason National Invitation Tournament and was among the nation's hottest teams.
The Bulldogs (29-6) made 12 three-pointers and 11 two-point field goals. They did not block any shots, but played sound enough defensively to collect 10 steals.
"We're challenged a little bit physically," Green said, "but as far as thinking, we might be one of the best thinking teams in America."
Butler finished the first half with as many made three-pointers (seven) as turnovers. Maryland finished the half with as many field goals (10) as turnovers.
Butler uncharacteristically committed four turnovers in the game's first 10 minutes. Maryland, on the other hand, pounded the ball inside and scored 10 of its first 15 points in the lane. The Terrapins' offense then stalled and failed to make a field goal for a stretch that spanned 6 minutes 30 seconds.
The Bulldogs took an 11-point advantage when Pete Campbell, who made 58 percent of his three-pointers in conference play, made his second three-pointer of the half for a 31-20 lead. Maryland whittled the gap to six with a three-pointer by Jones in the closing seconds of the first half.
The final minute of the second half, however, provided all the motivation needed for players who will be returning next season.
"I want something better than this," Vasquez said. "We want the championship. I want a championship. When we lose this type of game, it just kills me."