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Maryland Terrapins go down with a fight against Michigan State

By Mike Wise
Monday, March 22, 2010; D01

SPOKANE, WASH.

A stake through the heart was the only way it could end -- the only way, really, it should end.

As hard as that might be to swallow in a beyond-crushed College Park, nothing else could have extinguished the aortic-pounding sensation of the Greivis Vasquez era.

Anyone who followed the tumult and the tingling couldn't have been surprised it came down to Greivis's last-second runner against another kid's deep prayer at the buzzer. For the season.

Straight up.

Nothing else could have taken out the most theatrical player in the nation, his heart-first, head-second coach and this drama-king program. Nothing but a team that had the ball last, a stumpy guard who rose and fired for his season, and the gasps of yet another arena in disbelief that Gary Williams's basketball team was even in this game at the end.

Nothing except more drama and Korie Lucious, who hit nothing but net -- the shot that gave this Terrapins era a kick-to-the-stomach finality.

Michigan State 85, A Very Memorable Time in Maryland Hoops History 83.

The lead actor was outdone by a deep jump shot at the horn. There are no more sequels. The player who both tormented and tantalized an entire fan base has to move forward in life.

What, the Terps were supposed to advance to the Sweet 16 because they miraculously erased a nine-point deficit in the final 1 minute 53 seconds, in about the most frenetic finish the NCAA tournament has seen since Mario Chalmers hit that three-pointer to shock Memphis in the 2008 championship game?

Were they supposed to move on because Vasquez scored 10 of his 26 points during those surreal last moments, including a bodies-all-over-him runner right of the key in the final seven seconds, giving Maryland its second lead since 7-6? Because of that, it's somehow Maryland's right to move on?

Nuh-uh. Doesn't work like that. The only promise Gary could have made to his supporters when he signed an uber-emotional Venezuelan kid from Montrose Christian four years ago was that they would not forget the ride he took them on.

And they didn't, right till the gut-punch end.

Tom Izzo was asked what he said to Williams, his counterpart and friend, after the bedlam.

"You almost apologize," said the Michigan State coach, whose team is one of the last 16 in the country at the end of a season for, incredibly, the ninth time in 13 seasons. "Gary is such a good friend. I hope 10 years from now I can do what he's doing today."

Asked where this brutal loss at the end ranks on his tournament résumé, Williams at first deadpanned, "Well, it wouldn't be last," to a few laughs.

Then, clearly hurting after his first Sweet 16 appearance since 2003 was taken away at the buzzer, he added: "Let's see, where would it be? 2001 in the Final Four we were up 20 on Duke. That one hurt. I'm sure there's been others. Right now I can't think."

No one could after Lucious hit that shot.

The cramped, dank gray locker room used by Maryland at Spokane Arena was an amalgam of reddened eyes and stunned silence afterward.

Haggard-looking assistant coaches, their red-sheen ties unfastened, looked at the floor like Wall Street brokers after the market collapsed 800 points.

Cliff Tucker stood in one corner against a wall, "just in shock." Jordan Williams, wiping away tears earlier, sat back in his chair, unable to speak.

"You can't get down 16 to a team like that," Eric Hayes said, quietly. "We found a way to come back, though. Everybody is in disbelief. You don't want to believe it happened. The whole season flashed in front of your face when he made that shot."

A year ago, the second round was gravy when top-seeded Memphis buried Maryland with an early barrage. The feeling that day in Kansas City after the loss was, "We made it to the tournament and won a game when no one believed we could."

The lingering pain Sunday wasn't just a last-second loss; all that stood between the winner of this game and the Elite Eight was Northern Iowa, which knocked off Kansas on Saturday in the biggest shocker of the tournament.

The notion a week ago that Maryland would be two games away from the Final Four in a region where it outlasted Kansas and Georgetown was beyond implausible. But there the Terrapins were, all their dreams in front of them when Greivis got that runner to go with less than seven seconds left.

And there they went, from the top of the key.

All net, all over.

"If you had to sum up what Greivis was, it was that shot he made at the end," said Joe Harrington, the Maryland assistant coach who was once Gary's teammate in a bygone era.

"That was a tough-ass shot. He showed what he was made of, what his whole career here was about when he made that shot. He didn't want to lose."

Of course, the Greivis era was about happy endings -- exultations, popping jerseys, sneers, cheers and the pumped right fist of his coach thrust toward the Comcast Center ceiling -- and those defiant stares toward student sections that dared cross No. 21.

But it was also about days like this, siphoning every ounce of hope from the congregation until everyone outside the program believed the end was near, and then -- voila! -- David Blaine in high-tops, pulling off the grand escape with Gary. Again.

The wild comeback before Lucious's shot was a microcosm of the past few years, a high-wire act in which everyone was sure the Terps weren't going to the tournament, that Gary's days might be numbered, that the sky was falling on a once-proud program.

And just when others thought it was over, the maddening Maryland Terrapins of Greivis Vasquez found a way.

Outplayed, outsized by wide bodies, outrebounded by 18, they sicced a full-court press on Michigan State that flustered the Spartans into nearly throwing it all away.

Whether it was shutting their detractors up and upsetting Wake Forest at the ACC tournament a year ago to sneak in to the Big Dance, dropping Duke on Senior Night in College Park almost three weeks ago or coming back Sunday, the Gary and Greivis Show always saved the best for last.

Like that press that turned the game around, they remarkably found comfort in the chaos.

So as rough as that shot was for the Terrapins legions, that's why it had to end this way: with a crestfallen Greivis on the floor at the end and another team's pile of players celebrating beside him.

For seniors such as Hayes and Landon Milbourne, for a freshman like Jordan Williams, for resilient kids such as Adrian Bowie and Cliff Tucker who were such a monumental part of this season and that unbelievable push in the final minutes, they all knew the job was dangerous when they signed the scholarship.

It would be fraught with peril and passion and outright euphoria when Greivis poured his heart out and just asked his teammates to do the same.

That's why he had to feel this loss. The deep buzzer-beater from Lucious that sent Michigan State to the Sweet 16 and Maryland home had to pierce everything inside Vasquez -- the way he pierced everything inside those who came to see him and the Terrapins play.

"Greivis plays with everything on his sleeve, which is a great way to play," Gary said quietly after the ride ended too soon. "Unfortunately there's not enough people in life that do anything like that."

Crazy, no, how it took a college basketball player to make everyone get in touch with parts of themselves they were afraid of until the kid from Caracas made us go there. This is being typed a mere six hours after the finish. Already Greivis and that team feel missed.

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