The difference between Villanova and Maryland this afternoon was two plays: Villanova's worked, Maryland's didn't. End of conversation, end of game and perhaps end of season for the Terrapins.
Harold Pressley's easy layup off a perfectly executed screen with nine seconds left gave the Wildcats a 64-62 victory to initiate their duPont Pavilion in a scenario that the Terrapins could describe from memory, it has become so familiar. But this loss may have been their costliest as their hopes of making the NCAA tournament grow slimmer.
The Terrapins (11-9) once again played for more than 39 minutes as if they intended to win, only to fail in the final moments. They overcame a 38-33 halftime deficit after a technical foul on Coach Charles G. Driesell had given the Wildcats the momentum in the final minutes of the first period, coming back to lead briefly by four midway through the second half. And they had the ball with the score tied and less than a minute remaining in a game in which neither team led by more than two points in the final 9:22.
"We played well enough to win," said Driesell, who was incensed at the technical, as well as some of the fouls called on the Terrapins. "We played hard, and they just got the last shot, we didn't. We've played four or five games this way now."
Villanova's winning basket was set up after Keith Gatlin missed an 18-footer with 30 seconds left. Mark Plansky got the rebound and the Wildcats called time out to set up the play designed expressly for Pressley, their leading scorer.
"That's as well as we can execute offensively," said Rollie Massimino, coach of the defending national champions. "We ran the last play and got what we wanted."
The screen was set on Derrick Lewis, Maryland's best defensive player. He was picked off by guard Harold Jensen, who had 13 points to lead five Wildcats in double figures. Reserve guard Kenny Wilson then fed Pressley a perfect bounce pass for the winning basket. A sellout crowd of 6,400 on hand for the inaugural game in brand new duPont Pavilion began celebrating as the Wildcats (15-9) enhanced their own chances of an NCAA berth.
"It's always like that with us," said Lewis, who had 13 points and 11 rebounds. "We play well and lose at the end."
Maryland had one final opportunity, but the Terrapins did not call a timeout. Instead, they had decided during a prior timeout that if the Wildcats scored, they would hurry the ball up court and try to take a shot. If nothing was open, then a timeout was to be called.
Things never got that far. Just as freshman guard John Johnson rushed the ball past midcourt, Wilson crept up behind him and knocked it away. Johnson dove, Len Bias dove, and the ball rolled out of bounds with two seconds left.
"I was about to call the timeout, and he came up behind me," Johnson said. "He grabbed my wrist."
"I got all ball," Wilson said. "It was clean, and it went out of bounds."
Bias and Johnson denied touching the ball as it went out. But the referee ruled it out of bounds on Bias, Villanova's ball, end of game.
"I told them to push it up, and if there wasn't a shot then take the timeout," Driesell said. "I said, 'If you have something, take it.' Of course, I think he (Johnson) was fouled. He didn't just fall down. Somebody hit him."
Gatlin's missed 18-foot jumper with 30 seconds left was the catalyst for the final sequence of events. Although it was a good enough shot, it was indicative of what might have been Maryland's biggest shortcoming in the second half. He took it with five seconds remaining on the 45-second clock after the Terrapins were unable to get the ball to Bias.
Bias had a game-high 25 points and scored Maryland's first eight points of the game and 11 of its first 15. But he was held to eight in the second half, four in the last 15 minutes.
Driesell was partially responsible for a large momentum swing in Villanova's favor. The technical called on him helped the Wildcats to an 8-0 run that gave them their halftime lead. The technical came with 1:49 left and the Wildcats leading, 31-29. Jeff Baxter made a fast-break layup but it was nullified because of a charge. Driesell threw a stomping tantrum over the call that included the kicking of a chair.
Jensen made the free throws after the technical foul to make it 33-29 with 1:49 left, and by the time the run was over it was 37-29.
"It was ridiculous," Driesell said. "I'm going to complain to the commissioner about that. Before the game they (the referees) were joking that they had two of the best foot stompers in the game here. That bothered me. Then I stomped my foot and they called a technical. I had my back to him, I didn't say anything. This is a business, not a joke."