Hokies Burst Past Terps

By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 21, 2008

In 61 games in a Maryland uniform, Greivis Vasquez has experienced humbling losses to Ohio, American and a handful of other middling teams. But the sophomore felt last night's 69-65 loss to Virginia Tech was the worst of all.

"It's unbelievable," said Vasquez, sitting in a quiet Maryland locker room late last night. "Who can believe this? Can you believe this? We were up the whole game and then we lost."

Maryland built a 14-point lead in the first half, an 11-point lead in the second half and a six-point lead with 5 minutes 32 seconds remaining. All that was erased by a flurry of three-pointers during an improbable late-game rally by Virginia Tech that has abruptly changed the outlook of Maryland's season.

Over the past five weeks, the Terrapins have positioned themselves to return to the NCAA tournament, but they squandered whatever margin for error they had last night. Maryland (17-10, 7-5) is tied with Clemson for third place in the ACC, but the road ahead is daunting.

Players knew last night was a critical game because three of the final four games are on the road and three of the remaining opponents -- Clemson, Wake Forest and Miami -- are also vying for bids to the NCAA tournament.

"It's going to be a fight," Vasquez said. "It's going to be like living in a tough neighborhood and someone wants to kill you every morning and night when you walk by. That's how it's going to be the next four games."

Virginia Tech, which snapped a three-game losing streak, kept alive slim hopes of earning an at-large berth, but, perhaps equally important, the victory enabled the Hokies (15-11, 6-6) to sweep the regular season series against the Terrapins.

"It meant a lot to sweep Maryland," Virginia Tech Coach Seth Greenberg said. "You look at those banners. That's a Hall of Fame coach over there. Yeah, that means a lot to us. It's an area we've got to recruit, and we've had some success recruiting. Not as much as I'd like. But it meant a lot to me."

After the game, only a handful of Maryland players lingered to speak to the media. Forwards James Gist and Bambale Osby were among the players who quickly departed. Coach Gary Williams, who stood motionless for an instant when the final buzzer sounded, said: "You play close games, but that game shouldn't have been that close. We had our chances to score and didn't."

After taking a 51-45 lead with just more than five minutes remaining, Virginia Tech went on an 8-0 run that was capped by a three-pointer by A.D. Vassallo, which gave the Hokies their first lead of the game.

Vassallo, who finished with a team-high 19 points, later sank another three-pointer that gave the Hokies a seven-point advantage, their largest of the game, with 1:29 remaining.

Gist made only 3 of 8 shots and finished with seven points. Guard Eric Hayes made 2 of 8 shots. With teammates struggling, Vasquez tried to keep Maryland in it, taking 10 more shots than any teammate and finishing with 25 points.

"I can't take this one, because I was scoring and trying to play good," Vasquez said. "As a team, we just didn't play hard the last two minutes."

Maryland was plagued by sloppy play and, at times, offensive futility. The Terrapins' 18 turnovers were offset by only 15 assists. They did not score a point for a seven-minute stretch in the first half when Osby and Gist sat on the bench in foul trouble. Williams went with Dave Neal and Shane Walker (and briefly Braxton Dupree) in the front court, but Maryland soon turned the ball over and Virginia Tech guard Malcolm Delaney scored on an uncontested dunk in transition. Maryland's five reserves who played last night combined to shoot 0 for 2 from the field. When asked what he saw in his bench play, Williams said: "What you see. No points off our bench."

Vasquez later added, "Our bench has to step up."

Vasquez said a turning point in the season has to come Saturday against a Miami team that beat Duke last night.

"I'm not going to kill myself," Vasquez said. "I'm ready to fight again. My confidence is good. If we play our best, we can win these four games."

Hokies Note: Freshman forward J.T. Thompson did not play because he sprained his ankle Monday during practice. He is questionable for Saturday's game against Georgia Tech. Sophomore Lewis Witcher started in Thompson's place last night.

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