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Mike Wise on Maryland's Men's Basketball Team Defeating North Carolina State

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By Mike Wise
Monday, March 2, 2009

RALEIGH, N.C.

Until the last 12 minutes, Gary, Greivis and the Guttural Checks were involved in an eyesore, lacking either flow or rhythm. They played in a building that was maybe two-thirds full and lacked so much of the fire Carolina and Duke brought to Comcast Center last week.

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But now there was less than 10 minutes left, North Carolina State had the lead and the RBC Center crowd began to howl. And the Maryland Terrapins under Gary Williams were where they always are in March:

Playing for their postseason again, locked in a passion play with another Tobacco Road school, momentarily unsure what to do when the Wolfpack, the runt of the Big 4, flips the script.

Down here, don't they always get to be Hickory High?

Don't they get to be Dave Neal, that corn-fed, height-challenged center who looks like he should be starting for Ralph Friedgen instead of Williams? He knocked down a three-pointer from the right wing and strutted downcourt as if he were Sam Cassell burying the Knicks, circa 1994.

Or that reborn role player Cliff Tucker, who dropped in a crucial jump shot in the final minutes, a shot his confidence wouldn't allow him to take at the end of games in January?

Greivis Vasquez, back from the offensive ashes of a lost season, brought all his assets to bear. The nonchalant, one-handed runners in the lane. No-look assists. And that goodnight teardrop in the lane with less than 30 seconds left after the shot clock had all but expired on this suddenly patient, focused and purposeful team that had saved their best for last.

Just like that, a severely needed ACC road win is literally clawed out, two nights before Wake Forest comes to Maryland to feel the intensity, to feel what it's like to play South Bend Central against those gritty little kids in their gold jerseys with the red lettering.

Right down to the uniforms lately, you've seen this movie before.

It's about an intractable coach who turns 64 Wednesday, who's been through hell and back, trying to find that elusive serenity in the twilight of his career. It's the enigmatic, cocksure guard, the guy who needs to take the last shot.

If Jimmy Chitwood were Latino, he'd be Greivis Vasquez. If Gene Hackman's Norman Dale had to resurrect a college program, he would have wound up in College Park, where anyone who plays on Tobacco Road supposedly has it better and little ol' College Park is just small-town Indiana.


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