Only a recalcitrant iron rim preserved Maryland from upset last night. Tracy Battle's wide-open, 14-foot jumper with one second left was a heart-stopping, throat-clutching affair that bounced out at the buzzer to give the Terrapins an 81-80 victory over George Mason at Patriot Center last night.
The Patriots had reason to see positive signs in the loss, once they could forget the sight of Battle's shot hitting the back of the rim. They rallied from a 13-point deficit, seized the tempo of the game from heavily favored Maryland despite a career-high 33 points by Len Bias, and overcame 15 first-half turnovers. They accomplished it before an appreciative crowd of 4,774 in the first intercollegiate game in their newly built home.
"We got a good shot, a wide-open shot," said Coach Joe Harrington. "It could have gone . . . That game is going to help us. I hate to say that when we lose, but we could have won it just as easily as we lost it."
Maryland, on the other hand, let a 10-point halftime lead disappear despite Bias, lost control of its offense, and failed to work the clock. Although the Terrapins never trailed in the game, it was an eminently forgettable victory.
But it was one that Coach Charles G. Driesell intended to dwell on, particularly a five-minute stretch in which the Patriots outscored the Terrapins, 16-8, to pull within one.
"I can't wait to show them the film," Driesell said. "It was awful, outrageous, sickening, whatever you want to call it."
The Patriots had regained possession with nine seconds left after Bias missed a base line jumper. After George Mason got the rebound, guard Ricky Wilson quickly brought the ball downcourt. Triple-teamed near the foul line, he passed to his right to Battle, a 6-7 junior college transfer making his second start at center.
Battle, who had four points and six rebounds for the night, hesitated, dribbled once and sent up the shot.
"I should have used the backboard," he said. "But I hate to say should have."
Forward Darrin Mosley led George Mason with 19 points, followed by Earl Moore and Vincent McQueen, with 13. For the Terrapins, forward Speedy Jones and freshman guard John Johnson had 10 apiece.
Maryland led at the half, 43-33, and had a 13-point margin with 16:12 left in the game. But George Mason started one last run at the Terrapins with 7:15 remaining and it was a devastating one. The Patriots outscored them, 16-8, over the next five minutes to overcome a nine-point deficit.
George Mason is 1-1, having won its season opener over Central Florida. Maryland is 2-0, winning its season opener over Northeastern.
Mason scattered the points around the roster, but four important ones came from Moore, a freshman guard from Cardozo High in the District. Moore scored on a jumper to make it 79-75, then Rose made a free throw at 2:33 to pull the Patriots within three after Maryland guard Keith Gatlin missed a 20-footer. It was Moore who brought Mason within one, at 79-78 with 2:08 left, on a streaking fast break.
In between, Maryland, which was playing without center Terry Long (sidelined with a bruised knee), started missing some shots it had previously made and trying to force the ball in to Bias. The Terrapins also missed their share of free throws, shooting 67 percent in the second half.
Mason, meanwhile, added only three turnovers in the second half to its miserable 15 in the first, and improved its shooting from 48 percent to 62 percent.
"They got on a roll," Gatlin said. "We were hitting our shots pretty well all night, but then we missed a couple, we missed some layups and free throws, and they got going."
It was the everpresent Bias who finally seemed to give the Terrapins some measure of security again. He scored on a layin at 1:12 to make it 81-78.
Rose brought the fans to their feet with 56 seconds left, however. He forced his way inside and made a layup that hesitated as it fell in to cut it to 81-80, and Mason called a timeout.
It might have helped the Patriots to call one more timeout when they regained possession, to set up the final shot. But Harrington said he never considered it.
As it turned out, Battle's shot probably was as good as Mason was going to get.
"It was a good play," Wilson said. "I saw Tracy wide open and I gave it to him. I would have felt better if it had worked."
Bias had eight rebounds to go along with his career-high scoring performance, which topped the 30 points he had against Villanova last year. But he was less than overjoyed.
"There's nothing to celebrate," he said. "I don't think anyone is too pleased overall."
The one-point ending was a strange coincidence to both Harrington and Driesell, who had joked about a one-point game earlier in the week. Harrington is a former Maryland player who served as an assistant to Driesell for 10 years.
"It was funny because Lefty said he just wanted to get out of here with a one-point game," Harrington said. "I told him I wanted the same thing."