Bobby Cremins was praying for overtime, Lefty Driesell was plotting his victory, and Keith Gatlin was counting the seconds. What ensued today at Greensboro Coliseum was one of the most breathtaking and, for Maryland, heartbreaking endings to an Atlantic Coast Conference game in recent memory.
Duane Ferrell made a lunging steal of Gatlin's inbounds pass at half court with five seconds left and raced to a lingering, game-winning jam with one second to go. The stunning final sequence gave sixth-ranked Georgia Tech a 64-62 victory over the Terrapins in the semifinals of the ACC tournament, ruining Maryland's nearly successful bid for a second straight upset of a top 10 team.
"I've coached for a long time and I don't think I have ever lost one this way," said Driesell, whose Terrapins have lost six straight games to the Yellow Jackets.
The Terrapins had seized the opportunity for a game-winning shot of their own when center Terry Long stole the ball from guard Mark Price and called timeout with five seconds remaining. The scene that followed included another timeout by Georgia Tech, rearrangements on both sides, and then the 6-foot-6 Ferrell climbing out of nowhere to intercept the pass.
"It was the last thing that ever crossed my mind," Cremins said. "I was just hoping to get to overtime. It was weird. It was unbelievable."
With 12 seconds remaining, Len Bias' soft jumper from the lane had tied the game, 62-62, as the Terrapins rallied from a three-point deficit with 1:30 to go.
Long's steal had put them in position to make a brilliant dark horse advance to the final. Friday, Maryland (18-13) had beaten No. 4 North Carolina, 85-75, to gain the semifinals.
Instead, Georgia Tech (25-5) will be in Sunday's 1 p.m. final against top-ranked Duke (31-2), which fought off Virginia's thrilling bid, 75-70, in the other semifinal. Maryland will return to College Park to await an expected NCAA tournament bid.
The Terrapins also will contemplate the opportunities they had prior to the last five seconds, and how far they have come since losing their first six conference games. They led Georgia Tech by 34-31 at the half and by as many as eight in the second period. Bias scored a game-high 20 points and had a game-high seven rebounds. Tom (Speedy) Jones and Gatlin had 10 points each for the Terrapins.
"This doesn't do anything to us," Bias said. "We're still a good team and we know we can beat teams like this."
The Yellow Jackets got 16 points from Tom Hammonds and 15 each from Ferrell and John Salley. Price had 10 for the Yellow Jackets, who went on a 12-4 run over the middle of the second half to eventually take their three-point lead with 1:30 to go.
Then, before the final, deciding play, there was Driesell, outlining the inbounds play that was to go to all-America Bias, who would either drive the lane or get to the base line for a jumper off a pick from Jones. On the other side, there was Georgia Tech with one last foul to give, and Cremins arguing with assistant Perry Clark about whether to put the seven-foot Salley on Bias or the quicker Ferrell.
Clark won -- Ferrell was on Bias. Maryland came out and set up, but before the ball was put into play, Georgia Tech took its timeout, and Clark outlined the play that he recognized forming. Georgia Tech had seen it on game film and in its 67-66 victory over Maryland earlier this season, when Gatlin had missed a last-second shot.
Clark guessed correctly. Gatlin was fronted by guard Bruce Dalrymple, who harried him for four full seconds. Gatlin finally flung the pass, a desperate arc to Bias, who was all the way across court in front of the scorers table.
"If hoping has any effect, I was hoping," Dalrymple said. "I was playing the base line side so he'd have to throw it back toward the halfcourt. Then it was gone. Clark knew the play, and how to play it." So did Ferrell, who read the pass, rolled off Jones' pick and came flying across for the interception. He ran it in for the dunk as Gatlin chased him hopelessly and fouled him with a second left. Gatlin stared at the floor in shock.
"I kind of panicked," Gatlin said. "I didn't see him. I was trying to get it to Bias. By the time I saw him, it was too late, it was out of my hands. I just tried to get down there and stop him."
Ferrell, a sophomore from Towson, Md., finished with five rebounds, four assists and three steals in addition to his 15 points. He missed the final free throw, but Maryland could not get off a shot before time expired.
"I saw Gatlin was in trouble," Ferrell said. "Coach Clark had described the play. I broke the pick and deflected the pass, and went after it. I knew I wasn't going to make the free throw when I went to the line, the adrenalin was going so fast. I just wanted the ball out of my hands."
Gatlin had six assists in addition to his 10 points. The 6-5 point guard gave up just a single turnover: That one.
"I feel bad for Keith," Driesell said. "He played great. The final play is one we have run a thousand times in practice. Give Ferrell credit for anticipating it. I told our kids this just gives us an extra day of rest before the NCAA tournament. We're not going to lose any sleep over it."