Maryland's indispensable Albert King rippled two free throws with three seconds left in a third overtime last night, lifting the Terrapins to victory, 67-65, over Rhode Island in a first-round game of the National Invitation Tournament.
The Terrapins, 19-10 after the win in Cole Field House, next host 18-10 Ohio State Monday night in the second round.
King finish off a seemingly endless game that was full of poor shooting besides being highlighted by a trick play in the first overtime and a questionable call that gave King the decisive free throws.
With the score 65-all, Maryland had the ball with 31 seconds left and holding for a last shot. King had asked to be put into the game in the second half, and despite a painful swollen foot that made him limp, he had added a spark to his team, which had trailed by as many as seven points.
It was obvious that Maryland would be trying to go to King for the last shot, so Rhode Island's Phil Kydd guarded him closely. Official Tom Rucker from the physical Big Ten Conference called Kydd for a foul on King away from the ball with three seconds left and Maryland still searching for its last shot.
King made the one-and-one free throws, and Jimmy Wright's 50-foot desperation shot bounced off the rim.
"I've never seen good referees decide a game in the last five seconds on a foul unless it was flagrant," said Rhode Island Coach Jack Kraft. "It looked to me like there was just a lot of jockeying for position."
"At that time in the game, it was a cheap foul," said Rhode Island's Nick Johnson. "They were both ushing a little bit, but the referee always catches the second one.
"Al played a great game. But maybe those last two points were gifts." King's free throws went in cleanly.
"I just tried to get everything out of my mind," King said. "It was a long game and I just wanted to get it over with. Four overtimes would have been too much."
The turnout of 6,223 probably would have agreed, with the Terps shooting a.348 percentage and the Rams hitting.379.
Resides that, Maryland had 27 turnovers and Rhode Island 19, prompting Maryland Coach Lefty Driesell to comment, "If we were both super, we'd be in the NCAA tournament."
Ernest Graham brought down his team's shooting average with a five-for-19 showing and committed 11 of the Terp turnovers.
Maryland got one of two free throws from Buck Williams to tie it at 57 in regulation time, then Graham's 12-foot turn-around bank shot appeared to have it won at 61-59 with one second left in the first five-minute overtime.
But Kraft called a timeout and described a maneuver to his baby-blue clad players, one that he had seen used unsuccessfully by North Carolina Coach Dean Smith in an NCAA game against Syracuse.
With Kydd inbounding the ball and Larry Gibson guarding him face to face, Kydd slid down the baseline and Gibson followed, never seeing Ram guard John Nelson, planted steadfastly in Gibson's path.
Gibson ran into Nelson, was called for the foul and Nelson made both free throws to send the game into a second overtime.
After Nelson made the shots, Driesell walked over and shook Kraft's hand, evidently believing the game was over.
"No one ever pulled that on me," Gibson said. "I don't know if they should call a foul like that."
Rhode Island had never used the play before. "What else could we do?" asked Kraft, whose Rams finished 20-9. "It was our only salvation."
In the second overtime with the score tied at 63, Maryland began holding the ball with 2:09 left, only to lose it on a pass from Dutch Morley to Graham in the last seconds.
Johnson, who made the steal, missed an off-balance layup.
Those hoping to see a spectacular show from Rhode Island's all-American forward Sly Williams were disappointed. Williams fouled out of the game with seconds left in regulation. He had 12 points on six-of-15 shooting.
Gibson, who played 53 of the 55 minutes, paced the Terps with 17 points and 19 rebounds. Buck Williams had 13 points and 16 rebounds and King scored 15 points in his 28 minutes.