Maryland lost a game it should have won today, and the circumstances of the defeat made it even more galling.
The Terrapins dropped a 64-63 decision to Notre Dame before a national TV audience. The winning shot was made by Tracy Jackson, Paint Branch High School, Class of '77, a man Lefty Driesell recruited feverishly, a player who got away even though his family attends the same church as Driesell.
What's more, Maryland lost its final chance to win when Driesell, after two timeouts, ordered Albert King to try one play while the rest of the team thought another had been called.
"It was my fault," Driesell said. "I blew it. Blame me."
Driesell was accepting blame instead of congratulations because Jackson had driven the length of the court for a layup with six seconds left to put the Irish on top, 64-63.
The winning basket came after the Terps had overcome a six-point deficit in the final 4:30. They turned a 62-59 deficit into a 63-62 advantage in the last 30 seconds. First, King hit a short jump shot to make it 62-61, then stole the inbounds pass from Bill Hanslik and made a layup for the lead with 17 seconds to play.
Notre Dame Coach Digger Phelps leaped to his feet and started to put his hand together to signal time. But he stopped.
"I started to call it but I realized that with the time that was left we could dribble downcourt and get a basket out of transition," said Phelps, who won his 200th game as a collegiate coach.
"Our guys know to take it right to the hole in that situation. You're down one, they can't afford to foul you. You're going to get a good inside shot."
That's just what Jackson did. He charged the length of the court, barreled by Greg Manning and Ernest Graham and banked the shot home, giving him 15 points for the day.
"I saw some heads turned (away) when I got the ball so I just went," Jackson said. "Coach had said take it to their guards in transition, so I did."
It marked the second time in three games Jackson has made the winning shot in the final seconds for the eighth-ranked Irish (12-2). Fourteenth-ranked Maryland is 14-3.
"We didn't play as well as we could have today," Driesell said. "But I thought we played well enough to win. I like being one down with four seconds to go and having the ball. But we'd used up all but one of our time-outs. That hurt us."
The Terps had wasted one timeout in the first half when Ernest Graham could not inbound under his basket and called time. They wasted two more when they called time at points when the next whistle would have been a TV timeout.
But after Jackson's basket, they still had one left. Driesell used it, calling for Dutch Morley to get the ball to Graham or Greg Manning at center court.
"We ran their last-second play in practice yesterday," Phelps said. "And we lost, with Mike Mitchell imitating Manning."
Manning never got a chance to equal Mitchell's feat. After Maryland's timeout, Phelps used one and substituted 6-foot-11 Gilbert Salinas -- who started in place of Kelly Tripucka, out with back spasms -- for 6-2 Rich Branning. He ordered Salinas to harass Morley as he inbounded the ball.
Seeing Salinas in the game, Driesell had an idea. As the teams broke from the huddle he called King over to him.
Driesell told King, high man with 21 points, to run behind Salinas as if to set a pick. At the same time, Morley was to run the baseline and draw Salinas over to King. If all went as planned King would establish position and when Salinas hit him, draw the foul for a one-and-one opportunity.
Dean Smith used an identical play five years ago against Syracuse and it worked perfectly -- only the foul wasn't called and North Carolina lost to Syracuse. Last year, in the NIT, Rhode Island used the play against Maryland and got two foul shots and an overtime out of it.
Today, the play never had a chance. When King broke toward the baseline, Morley, unaware of the play, passed the ball to him. Suddenly, King was 80 feet from the basket with the clock running down.
"When I got the ball I tried to get the ball as close as I could and shoot," King said. "Things didn't work out right. I wish we had another halfcourt shooter. But you shouldn't let the game come down to the last play like that."
With the 6-7 Hanzlik, Notre Dame's best defensive player, hawking him, King got just over center court. He tried to pull up to take a set shot but Hanzlik was waving his long arms in King's face. King was forced to reach back with his right arm and make a wild, off-balance heave. It never came close.
"I tried to make him turn a couple of times when he was dribbling so it would burn some clock," said Hanzlik, who sat out 15 minutes of the first half with foul problems. "When he went up I stayed away from him so I couldn't foul but waved my arms at him. When I saw him heave it that way I knew we had it. That shot wasn't going in."
As Phelps blew kisses to the 11,345 in the Athelitc and Convocation Center to celebrate the win, the Terps dragged off to their locker room to ponder what might have been.
"I'm glad to get the 200th today against a good team like Maryland," Phelps said. "I didn't want my 200th going out over the wires as being over Navy."
Navy might have given either of these teams a battle today. Maryland, shooting 55 percent for the season, hit 48 percent. Notre Dame shot 44 percent from the floor.
The Terps led by as many as five in the first half but by only one at half-time. Big Ten official Rich Weiler slapped Driesell with his first technical in three years for a loud stomp.
"I didn't curse or yell or anything," Driesell said. "I just stomped. It was a bush call."
With Maryland continuing to miss easy shots, the Irish built a 61-55 lead with 4:30 left but couldn't hold on. The Terps caught a major break during their comeback with 30 seconds left when Tracy Jackson's tap-in of a Branning layup was disallowed by ACC official Paul Houseman.
Houseman's offensive goaltending call set up King's two baskets and the frenetic final seconds as Notre Dame avenged last year's one-point loss in College Park.
Afterward, Driesell met Jackson in the hallway. He shook his hand warmly. "I could kill you," he said, laughing slightly. But as Driesell said himself, Jackson was only partly to blame for an agonizing defeat.