Ever so meticulosuly, St. Joseph's College spent the evening digging Maryland a four-corner grave.
The slowdown worked, but just when Maryland had one foot in the ground, trailing by two with 23 seconds left, St. Jseph's committed three grievous errors that led directly to a 62-56 overtime victory for Maryland in the first round of the Maryland Invitational Tournament last night at Cole Field House.
The win set up an intriguing match-up tonight in the campionship game between the Terrapins and Southern California, a 78-60 winner over Holy Cross last night.
Holy Cross and St. Jeseph's will play at 7 p.m. for the consolation title with the final to follow at approximately 9 p.m.
Southern Cal (7-2) overpowered Holy Cross with is quick but disciplined attack, and the leadership of star center Cliff Robinson.
Although he was in foul trouble much of the night, Robinson led USC's balanced scoring with 14 points.
St. Josephhs will have to play tonight's game and contests for the next four to six weeks without Marcullus (Boo) Williams, who severed a tendon in his left hand in the strange and entertaining contest with Maryland.
Leading, 52-50, with seconds left in regulation time, Williams went to the foul line to shoot one and one. Just bofore he attempted his first shot, a Maryland player tried to check into the game but was waved back by an official.
As that transpried, a Maryland player reportedly stepped into the lane as Williams rebounded.
Mistake two came in the closing four seconds when St. Joe's, with four fouls to give, did not guard williams in-bounding the ball and did not use up the clock by committing fouls.
Mistake three was in no guarding A1 King, who freed himself to a vulnerable spot in the 3-2 zone at the baseline for an open eight-footer, tying the game at 52 at the buzzer.
King scored 27 points in all, and with the heads-up play of center Larry Gibson, the Terrapins shot to a 58-52 lead in overtime and overcame the bad manners of Ernest Graham. The win was their eight in 10 games.
Graham's shooting touch and his etiquetee were in question last night. A sparse crowd of 5,612 watched in amusment as Graham stuck out his tongue at St. Joseph's Zane Major while Graham and Dutch Morley ran a four-corner stall in regulation time.
Later in overtime, Graham made a free throw to put Maryland up, 61-54. But before he took his second shot, he pointed to Major, then to the scoreboard and said, "Another point."
The referee assessed a technical, Graham missed the second shot and St. Joe's had 25 seconds to trim the seven-point margin.
Jeffery Clark made both free throws but Morley forced a turnover on the ensuing St. Joe's possession to sew up t he verdict for Maryland.
"That's just Ernest," said Maryland Coach Lfty Driesell. "He's going to have to learn to control his tonigue or his head or somthing."
It was Graham's inability to control his usually lethal outside jumper that helped St. Joe's succeed with its 3-2 zone. Graham was nst hitting from ourside, and neithr was anyone else, as Maryland shot just 33.3 percent in the first half and was lucky to go to the locker room tied at 27-27.
"We expected them toslow it down," said Maryland's Greg Maning, who was 0 for seven but whipped a beautiful free-lance pass to King for the tying basket at the end of regulation. "But we're a running team. A lot of our offense is based on scoring on transition offense is based on scoring on transition baskets. In the first half, we didn't get one layup, and that hurt."
Even thought Maryland was played evenly by St. Joe's in the second half as well, there was more fire in the Terrapin attack. King came out with a look in his eyes that unmistakably said, "Give it to me." With King calling and waving directions, and hitting eight of 13 shots that half, the Terps went ahead, 48-42, with 3:14 left in regulation.
But a series of Maryland turnovers enabled St. Joe's to run off 10 straight points, six from Clark on one-and-one free throws.
Graham's 20-footer finalkly broke the spell and brought Maryland within 52-50, then St. Joe's committed its unexplained blunders. Coach Jim Lynam was vague in his explantation of why his vague in his explanation of why his players didn't use the available fouls, saying, "You want to be careful not to foul a player in the act of shooting."
After two time outs. Willams inbounded the ball to Manning, who fumbled it and was intentionally fouled by Luke Griffin. Williams, still unguarded, in-bounded the ball again to Manning, who sped around the top of the circle with the intention of passing to Graham in the corner for a last shot.
"But," said Manning, "I think they were more concered aboput Ernest than King) because they ran right by A1. They forgot about him."
King was incredibly open for a dazzling Manning pass and his eight-footer tied it at 52-52.
At the outset of regulation, King took the ball to the hoop for a score and Gibson forced a turnover. Then, after a Maryland turnover, Gibson blocked a shot on the fast break and the Terrapins capitalized on the other end with a Williams tip-in for a 56-52 lead. Later, Williams displayed his slam dunk of the year, curling the ball in with one ferocious hand for a 60-54 lead with 1:04 left.