BATON ROUGE, LA., DEC. 12 -- Although Maryland led most of the afternoon, its hopes for what could have been the most important victory in Coach Bob Wade's brief tenure were dashed today by Louisiana State's Fess Irvin, who made a 17-foot jump shot with one second left to give the Tigers a 55-54 victory in front of 10,222 at the Assembly Center and a regional television audience.
The winning basket came after Maryland guard John Johnson missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw bonus with 25 seconds remaining. Irvin's shot also was the third of LSU's final possession after the Terrapins failed to grab the rebound on two previous misses.
"It wasn't so much that we were lucky," said LSU's Ricky Blanton. "Fortunate? Yes, fortunate is a better word."
The word for Maryland (5-2) was disappointment. LSU (3-0) was the favorite in this game and if the Terrapins had only been respectable, it would have been something of an accomplishment, especially given the thrashing they took a week ago at West Virginia. But once they had a victory in sight, then in their hands and almost in their pockets, just doing well hardly seemed any consolation.
"I thought the kids did well after getting humiliated by West Virginia," Wade said. "I was very proud because we controlled the tempo. But we had every opportunity to win. In the last two minutes, we didn't execute, didn't make our free throws and didn't rebound. We allowed them to hang on."
The Terrapins led by 11 in the first half and took a 30-24 lead to the locker room. But as Wade said, the Tigers held on.
Dave Dickerson, who replaced Brian Williams after the freshman center got his fifth foul, hit a jumper to give Maryland a 50-45 lead with 3:44 left in the game. But with Williams out and Derrick Lewis hampered by four fouls, Maryland was at a disadvantage inside and on the boards.
LSU's Jose Vargas took advantage of that, and after being fouled on a follow-up, made two free throws to slice the lead to 50-47 with 3:15 left. After an errant Dickerson pass, Irvin made a jumper from the right corner to cut the deficit to one.
Rudy Archer drove the base line, but stepped on the end line. After a timeout, LSU passed inside to Vargas. Lewis might have been in position to block his path or his shot, but he decided not to challenge with four fouls. Vargas' dunk gave LSU it's first lead, 51-50, with 2:10 left, since the Tigers were ahead by 3-2.
But with 1:44 left, Maryland's Teyon McCoy sank a three-point shot from the corner with Darryl Joe in his face, to reclaim the lead at 53-51. "I just thought I could hit it," said McCoy, who played almost the entire game and finished with eight points. He then made one of two free throws with 1:31 left for a 54-51 lead, but that ended the scoring for the Terrapins.
Irvin missed with about 70 seconds remaining and Maryland rebounded. McCoy dribbled into the front court. Unfortunately for Maryland, he kept dribbling and then had his pass intercepted with a minute left.
"What I was thinking of was that I saw Derrick and I thought he could bring it back out," McCoy said. "It was a big mistake because I could have just brought it out myself. But I wasn't trying to score. I wanted to kick it over to Derrick and have him throw it back out."
LSU's Kyle McKenzie made two free throws with 41 seconds left to cut Maryland's lead to 54-53. Maryland then went to a spread ofense and with 25 seconds left, LSU's Bernard Woodside fouled Johnson. Two free throws would have gone a long way in that situation. Johnson's first one went too far and clanged off the back iron.
"I was cold and hadn't taken a lot of shots," Johnson said. "I just missed it."
LSU pushed the ball up court and tried to go inside to Vargas. He missed a short jumper in the lane, but Woodside grabbed the rebound and passed to Blanton in the corner. His jumper bounced off, too, and Woodside again rebounded in the right corner. The former George Washington University player drove toward the basket, but pulled up and swung the ball to Irvin on the left wing.
"I looked at the corner clock and it was at about four seconds when the ball was getting to me," said Irvin. "No hesitation."
And nothing but net. The Terrapins called time with one second left. But the inbounds pass was intercepted by LSU and the Tigers began celebrating their victory.
"They controlled the tempo the whole way," LSU Coach Dale Brown said. "We played a heck of a game on defense. Without the good job on defense, we would have lost by 20 points."
Lewis and Williams had 10 points apiece to lead Maryland, while Vargas led LSU with 16. But it was Irvin's shot that mattered.
With less than a minute left in last year's NCAA Midwest Regional final against Indiana, Irvin had missed the front end of a one-and-one. So he understood how Maryland's Johnson felt.
"I'm sure it hurts," Irvin said. "Free throws are a big part of the game and you have to make them at crucial points."
But, making his last-second jumper, he redeemed himself a bit in the eyes of folks down here. Still, he knows it only lasts until the next pressure situation.
"The shot against Indiana hurt," said Irvin, now a sophomore. "It motivated me and I worked to get better. Sometimes you miss and sometimes you make them. Last year, I thought it was the world when I missed. Now I realize it's just a game." MARYLAND Min FG FT R A PF T McCoy 38 3-6 1-3 1 3 3 8 Archer 40 4-8 0-0 4 4 2 9 Williams 20 5-8 0-0 2 0 5 10
Halftime: Maryland, 30-24.
Three-point goals -- Maryland 3-10 (McCoy 1-4, Archer 1-2, Johnson 1-2, Hood 0-2), Louisiana State 2-4 (McK
A -- 10,222.