(Alex Brandon/Associated Press)

As the basketball tumbled toward the net, the losing coach thought it was short, the winning coach knew it was good and Maurice Creek started thanking God.

“I’m glad this day has come and I got the opportunity to actually take that shot that everybody dreams of taking,” said Creek, an Oxon Hill native and graduate student transfer at George Washington. “Actually, to make that shot that everybody wants to take.”

That perfect jumper, a highlight-worthy 18-footer lofted by Creek with six-tenths of a second left, sank the Terrapins in a 77-75 loss at Verizon Center during Sunday’s BB&T Classic. But the wild finish may ultimately mask another horrendous Maryland start, and were it not for an avalanche of George Washington mistakes, Creek’s buzzer-beater would have been entirely superfluous.

“We were devastated obviously,” sophomore Jake Layman said. “We thought we had this one.”

For 36 minutes, such confidence would be unfounded. But when Dez Wells fouled out with six minutes left, the Terps finally awoke from their week-long hibernation that spanned their blowout loss at Ohio State and trudged through the wintry weather into the Verizon Center. Around that time, Coach Mark Turgeon, whistled for a technical foul that at the time did little to invigorate his team, called upon his full-court press to save the day, or at least give Maryland some much-needed energy.

“We needed something to get our intensity up,” Layman said, because before that moment, intensity was non-existent. The Terps fell behind by double digits early, and trailed by 12 points at halftime. Any wholesale changes promised by the players after losing to Ohio State seemed buried beneath the familiar. The offense seemed stagnant. They committed turnovers and played porous defense. But here, with the game winding down, glimmered hope that Maryland would escape from the garbage dump with something useful.

With Layman defending the inbounder, Faust and Evan Smotrycz trapping the wings, and freshman Roddy Peters playing safety, Maryland forced eight George Washington turnovers in 11 frantic possessions, and suddenly the lead was chopped from 14 points to five before the final media timeout arrived.

“I was really proud of my team,” Turgeon said later. “Tried hard. We don’t have a lot of things going our way right now, whether it’s balls going in and out, guys making tough shots against us, no whistles, it’s a lot of things not going our way right now. We never quit. Had a chance to win it.”

Several chances, in fact. Smotrycz missed a three-pointer from the left corner that would have brought Maryland within two, but instead kept the Colonials lead at five. Down 71-67, Faust missed another deep shot from almost the exact same spot. But George Washington kept committing turnovers and Maryland kept answering with timely buckets, including a tip-in by Charles Mitchell that tied it at 73-73.

“Just playing hard,” said forward Jon Graham, who played 15 minutes and contributed an efficient five points, five rebounds and three blocked shots. “We got out there in the press, got our hands high, played tremendous defense, a lot of it was our effort. We got to loose balls as hard as we could, got a lot of deflections. We played hard in the press and caused a lot of turnovers.”

Turgeon said he doesn’t want to “rely on our press to get ourselves going,” but at this point why not? It boosted Maryland without Wells on the floor, provided instant offense and kept the Terps in constant transition, arguably their greatest strength right now.

In the end, it took a stepback shot from Creek over Faust to tilt the game in George Washington’s favor, though the final box score masks how much the Colonials controlled the game until the final three minutes. Maryland committed 18 turnovers and shot 26.3 percent on three-pointers. Wells, despite fouling out, was the Terps’  leading scorer with 16 points, though Smotrycz (11 points), Layman (13) and Peters (11) all finished in double figures.

Moving forward, it will be impossible for Turgeon to ignore another slow start – “I have no idea,” he said of it. “If I knew we wouldn’t keep doing it.” – but the second half at least provides a stepping stone from the calamity at Ohio State entering this week’s ACC opener at Boston College.

“In my world, there’s no moral victories,” Graham said. “We played has hard as I’ve seen us play. I felt like this was a game we were going to get. We climbed down from such a huge hole. We fought and I thought we’d come out with this one. That’s the way it goes sometime.”

(Video via Rob Dauster)