Wake Forest Rises Above Maryland in 65-63 Victory
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
The happy ending to Maryland senior forward Dave Neal's Comcast Center career was nearly written. It was his night; the banner in the corner of the arena's upper deck with Neal's name on it indicated as much. And in the second half, fueled by the positive vibes from his final home crowd, Neal kept making three-pointers.
But his gritty effort was not enough last night, not against a physically superior Wake Forest squad that was armed with the patient confidence afforded by its sizable talent.
So Neal sat in a red padded folding chair, sweat still streaming down his forehead after Maryland's 65-63 loss, and tried to explain how the conclusion that seemed so fitting, so perfect, went awry.
"When I got hot there I thought we were definitely going to pull this one out," said Neal, who lead the team with 19 points and six rebounds on senior night. "But Wake Forest, being the number 10 team in the country, stayed extremely composed. They never quit, and that's what makes them a great team. They had some huge plays there at the end that kind of kept them going."
The Terrapins never wilted, in large part because of Neal's offensive resurgence. He played just five minutes in the first half, the result of two fouls he picked up in the contest's first three minutes.
But in a 2-minute 12-second span midway through the second half, Neal connected on three three-pointers, the last of which provided Maryland a four-point lead. It would not last long. After Dino Gregory's layup put Maryland up 54-48 with 7:44 left, Wake Forest scored the game's next 11 points and took a lead it would not relinquish.
With 40 seconds left and the Terrapins trailing by three, Wake Forest forward James Johnson blocked Neal's layup attempt. Neal's ideal ending was gone, seemingly in an instant.
"Every time we got it in there, somebody swatted it away," Maryland Coach Gary Williams said. "It's gonna happen. We're not the biggest team this year, but, you know, you compete. . . . Like I said, as far as the execution goes, that's my responsibility. In terms of the effort, the players did that. There was no backup on our part."
Maryland (18-11, 7-8 ACC) does not possess Wake Forest's collective height, nor its collective natural talent. But the Terrapins understood that -- win or lose -- the result of the regular season's penultimate game would have a great impact on their postseason plans.
A victory would have ensured Maryland a .500 record in conference play, given the Terrapins three wins over teams ranked in the top 10 and all but secured a return to the NCAA tournament.
"I'm so angry right now," said junior guard Greivis Vasquez, who tallied 16 points and seven assists. "This was the game that, you know, I thought we could have made history by winning this game."
The defeat forced Maryland back into a familiar position -- facing a must-win game. It will come on the road, where the Terrapins are 2-5, on Saturday against Virginia, a traditional rival.
Wake Forest (23-5, 10-5) opened the second half on a 16-5 run. Utilizing a 1-3-1 zone defense with 6-foot-9 forward Al-Farouq Aminu at the top, the Demon Deacons befuddled the Terrapins.
"In the second half, we just couldn't move as well as we did in the first half, and that hurt us," Williams said. "We have to, against a team with that size, use our speed, and we just didn't seem to have it there for a while. And their zone is big. It's just really long. They spread out out there. We had trouble with the passing angles. And the open shots that we did get, they didn't kick in there for a while."
The Terrapins shot 34.3 percent in the second half after shooting 44.1 percent before the break.
Defensively, Maryland struggled to contain Wake Forest guards Jeff Teague (17 points) and Ishmael Smith (11 points), who were the beneficiaries of several second-chance opportunities created by the Demon Deacons' 19 offensive rebounds. For the game, Wake Forest outrebounded Maryland by 18.
"That's what happens when they crash the boards and get offensive rebounds," junior guard Eric Hayes said. "That killed us in the second half."
Terrapins Note: Sophomore forward Jerome Burney sat out the game with a bruise on his right foot. He missed two months earlier this season with a stress fracture in the same foot.