Michigan State's last-second shot leaves Maryland's heralded senior trio at a loss
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
SPOKANE, WASH. -- Amid the hushed tones of a sullen Maryland locker room, senior guard Eric Hayes stuffed Terrapins sneakers and warm-up gear into a white mesh bag for the final time. Hayes was aware of his surroundings, but the end had come too abruptly for him to see anything other than Michigan State guard Korie Lucious releasing a three-pointer near the top of the key as time -- and Hayes's collegiate career -- expired.
"I can't get the shot out of my head right now," Hayes said. "It just keeps replaying, replaying. And I think maybe in a couple weeks or a week or so, I'll be able to look back on the season and see all the great things we did this year. It's just tough right now."
A Maryland men's basketball season that began with hopes of reaching the round of 16 for the first time since 2003 concluded Sunday at Spokane Arena with an 85-83 loss to Michigan State that halted the Terrapins just shy of that goal. Maryland's season had been defined in large part by the Terrapins' uncanny ability to pull out victories in a variety of circumstances, which only made the final outcome more sobering.
Maryland (24-9) claimed a share of the ACC regular season title and a fourth seed in the NCAA tournament by living up to the phrase written in red Sharpie on senior guard Greivis Vasquez's right game shoe: Sin temor a nada -- "Without fear of anything."
A 10-point deficit at N.C. State? A 15-point deficit against Clemson? Down by one with 1.5 seconds to play against Georgia Tech? The Terrapins erased them all. Double overtime at Virginia Tech? Senior night against Duke? Maryland came out on top.
But in the process of winning the final seven games of their regular season slate, perhaps the Terrapins emptied their store of good fortune, as well.
The sting of Sunday's loss eventually will subside, unveiling a clearer picture of all that Maryland accomplished this season. Led by the senior trio of Hayes, Vasquez and forward Landon Milbourne, the Terrapins withstood some early-season obstacles to coalesce into a squad that did not lose once at home during conference play.
Vasquez returned for his senior season in College Park after initially entering his name in the NBA draft last spring. After struggling at the outset, Vasquez rounded into form and eventually claimed ACC player of the year honors. On Sunday, he scored 26 points to surpass Len Bias for second place on Maryland's career scoring list (2,171 points).
Hayes provided the Terrapins a constant source of stability -- both in temperament and in performance. Against Michigan State, Hayes tallied 18 points, which pushed him over 1,200 for his career. Hayes, who made 4 of 7 three-point attempts against the Spartans, will go down as the fourth-most accurate three-point shooter (40.5 percent) and the top free throw shooter (87 percent) in Maryland history.
And then there was Milbourne, the third 1,000-point scorer of Maryland's senior class. Asked to play out of position because of the team's size constraints during his junior and senior seasons, Milbourne (6 feet 7) adapted to lead his team in blocks for a second consecutive year.
"You have seniors that are tough and have been through some things, and you have a chance," said Coach Gary Williams, this season's ACC coach of the year.
The Terrapins also witnessed the emergence of their future cornerstone this season. Ranked in the preseason Associated Press top 25 poll, Maryland quickly fell out after suffering a pair of losses at the Maui Invitational in November. The Terrapins played the first eight games without expected starter Dino Gregory, a junior forward who was suspended for academic misconduct.
In Gregory's absence, freshman forward Jordan Williams was inserted into the starting lineup, and over the course of the following months, he developed into the strong low post presence Maryland lacked the previous season. Williams averaged 9.6 points and 8.6 rebounds per game en route to being voted the ACC's second-best rookie. In Maryland's first-round NCAA tournament victory over Houston on Friday, he tallied 21 points and 17 rebounds.
Williams will return to anchor Maryland's front court next season, but with the three accomplished seniors departing and a five-man freshman class coming in, the Terrapins will have a very different look.
In the immediate aftermath of a crushing, season-capping -- and in some cases, career-ending -- loss Sunday, perspective proved elusive.
"We just got to take a couple weeks, maybe a couple months, maybe a year to get over it," Vasquez said. "But it is what it is."