They picked the wrong game to put on national television from Dayton Arena today.
Villanova's upset of Michigan was okay, but Maryland's 64-59 victory over Navy in the Southeast Regional was the kind of game that makes college basketball special.
Other than a last-second shot, this game had everything. It had an overmatched underdog, scrapping its way to an 11-point lead, then trying desperately to hang on. It had the heavy favorite fighting from behind when it might have quit. It had two great players carrying their teams.
And, finally, it had the two teams, after bruising each other for 40 minutes, shaking hands warmly when it was over, knowing each had been forced to the limit, and then sharing a plane home.
"When they had us by 11, we just looked at each other and said, 'We'll never be able to live it down if Navy beat us,' " point guard Keith Gatlin said. "They were killing us, kicking our butts. Coach told us it had to come from our hearts. That we had to go out and give it 100 percent the rest of the way or else we were going home and staying home."
Coach Lefty Driesell's little speech, after he called time with the Midshipmen leading, 45-34, seemed to get his team going. But there was more than a pep talk to this victory, which puts Maryland (25-11) into the regional semifinals Friday in Birmingham, against Villanova.
There was 6-foot-8 Len Bias covering 6-11 David Robinson, stopping the wonderful Navy center cold the last 12:27 of the game and ending with 20 points himself. There was substitute Speedy Jones making three baskets during Maryland's surge.
There was Gatlin, finally playing without fear of being yanked by Driesell, scoring 10 points and passing for 12 assists while playing the entire game. And, there was Jeff Adkins, who once considered going to Navy, making two free throws with the Terrapins leading, 58-57, and 40 seconds to play.
And there was a worn-out Navy, a team that came in here and played two near-perfect games, only to be done in by the excellence of Maryland in the last 15 minutes, fatigue and one crucial officiating call.
The Midshipmen went home 26-6, with lots to be proud of. Today, after embarrassing Louisiana State in the first round, they played about as well as could be hoped. Maryland stays alive and also has plenty to feel good about. "We just wouldn't give up this weekend," said Adrian Branch, who scored 11 points but watched most of Maryland's rally from the bench with four fouls. "We just refused to lose."
The proximity of the schools had a lot to do with this game. Robinson, who had 22 points and eight rebounds, admitted having trouble breathing during the game, although he apparently had no problem other than a slight cold. Branch had the same trouble even before the game.
"I was just so intense I couldn't breathe," Branch said. "It was the NCAA, it was Navy, it was everything. I was tight."
Everyone was tight. But in the first half, the Midshipmen played textbook basketball. They shot 59 percent, outrebounded the Terrapins and got the ball to Robinson, who often was triple-teamed. The result was a 37-32 halftime lead.
It quickly became 45-34 as Robinson overwhelmed Derrick Lewis inside, the first time all season that Lewis, a 6-7 freshman, has been unable to handle an opposing center. With 16:36 left, Driesell pulled Branch (four fouls) and Lewis, and put Bias on Robinson.
"Derrick couldn't stop him and neither could Terry Long," Driesell said. "Bias was the next one."
Bias, as it turned out, was the one. "He was an animal," Gatlin said. "I've seen him take over games offensively, but today he did it at both ends."
From 45-34, the Terrapins went on an 8-0 spurt. Robinson scored his last basket to make it 47-42, but Gatlin threw two alley-oop passes to Jones for dunks and Jones made a short jumper for Maryland's first lead, 48-47. By then, the Midshipmen were tired.
Coach Paul Evans considered slowing things down with the lead, but discarded the idea. "Our kids' confidence has been so high lately that I was afraid if we slowed things down they might think the coach is afraid and they might have panicked," he said. "We had preached to the kids, 'Play to win, play to win.' We didn't want them to think we, as coaches, were playing not to lose."
Even after losing the lead, Navy still had something left. Kylor Whitaker made an 18-footer to get the lead back at 49-48, and Navy built it back to 55-51. Then Maryland got a key break. Bias missed a jumper and the batted-around rebound finally came to Navy guard Doug Wojcik.
Bias, Jones and Adkins tried to surround him. Wojcik appeared to be fouled at least once. There was no call. "It looked like Lenny bumped him," Gatlin conceded.
Instead, when Wojcik put his head down to try to get some room, he was called for charging. "I'm not going to comment on that call," Evans said. "But I didn't see any officials from our league (ECAC South) out there."
One of the game officials, Gerald Donaghy, is from the Atlantic Coast Conference, to which Maryland belongs. He did not make that call.
Instead of Navy getting the ball with 6:43 left, Maryland got it back. Bias followed Gatlin's miss, then, 10 seconds later, Carl Liebert traveled and Branch made an 18-footer as he was fouled. His free throw made it 56-55, Maryland, with 5:34 left.
Whitaker made a jumper, but Bias made yet another follow shot and yet another dunk to make it 58-57 with 4:44 to go. Then Donaghy made a call that upset Evans.
The Terrapins pressed. Navy got the ball to Robinson near midcourt and he passed back to Whitaker. Gatlin got in front of Whitaker, who tried to pass back to Wojcik. The ball went off Wojcik's hands. By the time he ran it down, Donaghy had whistled 10 seconds.
As it turned out, Navy never had another chance to lead. With the ball and the lead for the first time, Driesell took Navy out of its zone. Evans, knowing his team was tired, let the clock melt under two minutes before going man to man. The Terrapins held the ball until Adkins was fouled with 40 seconds left.
"I usually miss my free throws during the game," Adkins said. "But at the end I just block everything out and concentrate. When they called time, I just went off by myself and kept my mind clear."
Clear enough to make both shots for a 60-57 lead. Wojcik turned over the ball and Gatlin made two more free throws.
When it ended, Driesell, who had told Evans before the game, "One of us is going to Birmingham and the other is going to the beach," was offering Evans his beach house. "I'm not nearly as rich as Lefty," Evans said. "I don't have a beach house."
But he does have a basketball team to be proud of. So does Driesell. And they live in the same neighborhood. That's what made this game special.