UNC Wilmington 73
Reprinted from yesterday's editions
-- Maryland guard Drew Nicholas got the ball near his own basket with five seconds left Friday night, then dribbled the length of the court, weaving from left to right before hitting the shot of every basketball player's dreams. Just before time expired, Nicholas rose off one leg and let go a three-pointer that lifted the sixth-seeded Terrapins to a 75-73 victory over 11th-seeded North Carolina Wilmington in an NCAA tournament South Region first-round game.
As the ball went through the basket, Nicholas ran off the court before being mobbed by his teammates in a corner of Gaylord Entertainment Center. Game officials put a temporary halt to the celebration, reviewing the play on a courtside monitor to see if Nicholas had let go of the shot before time expired.
Once it was decided that the shot counted, the Terrapins (20-9) exulted again, dancing about the court. They advanced to Sunday's second round to play Xavier and avoided becoming the first defending champion since UCLA in 1996 to be knocked out in the first round.
"There's nothing better," said Nicholas, who scored 22 points. "In front of 20,000 fans, NCAA tournament? It can't get better.
"I just kind of ran up and got the ball and I just took it far as I could and tried to make something happen," he said. "I know the shot didn't look the prettiest, but it went in. I couldn't believe it when it went in. Around this time, it's all about winning and advancing."
It was a scintillating end to a splendid game. After losing its past two games in disappointing fashion, Maryland came out with intensity and fire and shot a blistering 61.2 percent to take a 46-41 halftime lead.
The Terrapins pushed the margin to 57-47 early in the second half, but soon found themselves in trouble. Point guard Steve Blake had picked up his fourth foul and was sitting on the bench and UNC Wilmington finally figured out Maryland's 3-2 zone defense.
Behind the surprising shooting of John Goldsberry and a typically stellar performance from Brett Blizzard, the Seahawks (24-7) rallied and pulled ahead 68-63 with less than four minutes left.
The Terrapins had received strong performances from center Ryan Randle (15 points, 16 rebounds) and forward Nik Caner-Medley (12 points), but their offense was faltering down the stretch. With less than two minutes left, forward Craig Callahan made two free throws for a 71-67 lead.
Randle, bursting out of a three-game slump, made two free throws to make it 71-69 with 41.8 seconds left. After UNC Wilmington's Joel Justus missed the front end of a one-and-one, Blake made a three-pointer from the left corner to put Maryland back in front, 72-71 with 20 seconds left.
The Seahawks then got the ball inside to forward Aaron Coombs, who was fouled with five seconds left. Coombs made two free throws for a 73-72 lead. UNC Wilmington called timeout to set its defense.
The Terrapins wanted to get the ball to Blake, but he could not get open. Instead, forward Tahj Holden inbounded the ball to Nicholas. He worked his way from left to right across the court, running past Blizzard. Forward Anthony Terrell, who is 6 feet 7, tried to get in the way and raised his hands as Nicholas let go of the ball with about 0.5 on the clock.
"I was praying, 'Please let it go in, please let it go in,' " Blake said. "It seemed like that shot was in the air forever."
"I remember talking to my brother before the game," Nicholas said. "Today was his 30th birthday, and I told him I was going to have a good present for him. Hopefully, that's good enough."
Despite being the higher-seeded team, Maryland wore its road red uniforms because three players' jerseys had been misplaced at the team hotel.
From the outset, it was apparent that Maryland had relocated the enthusiasm that it had missed in recent losses to Virginia and North Carolina. However, it was unclear if that would be enough. Randle picked up two quick fouls and went to the bench, then Blake picked up his fourth less than two minutes into the second half.
Blizzard and Callahan had been cold, missing 22 of their first 26 shots. But Goldsberry, a freshman who entering averaging 4.2 points per game and had scored in double figures just once all season, was spectacular. He made his first eight shots -- all three-pointers -- and finished with 26 points.
Maryland had led 62-56, then Goldsberry made a three-pointer and Blizzard -- the two-time Colonial Athletic Association player of the year -- made three three-pointers to put the Seahawks ahead 68-63 before Maryland's final rally.
"That will always be special for me," Williams said. "It's not easy to do that when you're not playing particularly well.
"We have heart. I hope nobody questioned our heart the last two games."