OK, so it wasn’t USA 4, USSR 3 from the 1980 Olympics, but beating #1 UNC at the Dean Dome is one of the all-time great wins in Maryland history. This from the team that was justifiably ridiculed by Billy Packer just four nights ago? Impossible!
What happened today is why we love sports. To quote the greatest sports movie ever made, Hoosiers, “And David put his hand in the bag and took out a stone and slung it. And it struck the Philistine on the head and he fell to the ground. Amen.” There were about 15 people who thought Maryland could win this game: Gary, the coaches, and the players. That’s it. No one gave them a chance, not even their fans (read: me). But that is Gary Williams at his best. The ultimate underdog.
The winning sequence couldn’t have been more improbable: James Gist throws an entry pass to Bambale Osby who gathers himself for a difficult lay in which he completes without traveling. Amazing!
Of course, the officials were determined to give Carolina every opportunity to pull this one out. Carolina knocked the ball out of bounds with 10 seconds left and Maryland up two. Game over right? Nope. Still Carolina ball. Was there a Maryland fan anywhere in the world who wasn’t throwing something or screaming obscenities after that call? It was epic in its atrociousness. Vintage Karl Hess. But in the end, our boys prevailed.
The Terps apparently now own the Dean Dome. Has there been a peskier visiting opponent for UNC over the last 24 years? Len Bias dealt Carolina their first ever loss in the building. In my only trip down there in 1996, Johnny Rhodes and the boys beat them. Now, we upset them as 18-point underdogs! I’m sure the Terps overall record in the Dean Dome is still under .500, but it is definitely better than one would think and probably better than any other school in the ACC.
My favorite non-game moment from today came from the footage of the Cameron Crazies going nuts after Maryland completed the upset. What a bunch of morons! As we all know, a Maryland win can completely rejuvenate this team. With Duke next on the Terps docket, one has to think that the Blue Devils will now have their hands full next Sunday. Yet there they were, cheering in full throat. God, I hate them.
Now, back to some reflections on today’s historic win. If you scroll down to the post from this morning, you will see my recipe for a Terps upset. Let’s review:
- The Terps need to own the glass. (Didn’t happen. UNC outrebounded MD 46-38
- The Terps need to record 8-10 blocks. (Didn’t happen. MD had only 5 blocks)
- Greivis must play under control and commit no more than 4 turnovers (Check*. Even though he had 6 TO’s and he took 3 -4 inexcusable shots, Greivis only committed 1 TO in the second half and he stepped up down the stretch when it counted. I am giving myself a “check mark” with an asterisk on this one.)
- Terps must hit 6 three pointers. (Check. With Milbourne surprisingly contributing two)
- Gist must score 25+ points. (Check*. Technically, it was 22 points, but Gis was all that and then some today. James played the best game of his young life and Maryland needed every single bit of it. Every time that Maryland needed a bucket, Mr. Gist delivered.
So with my liberal scoring, I was correct with 3 of the 5 “needs” that Maryland had to have to record the upset. But the question remains, how did the Terps win without dominating defensively? The answer is that Maryland scored more points today than they have in every game this year except for the laugher against Morgan State. Where did all of this offense come from? I’ll tell you in the form of the prettiest two stats I have seen all year:
In the other words, “the best game Maryland has played all year”. Vasquez had five turnovers in the first half alone. That means that without taking a look at the first half stats, at most, Maryland committed only five turnovers during the entire second half. Simply put, Maryland played smart for 40 minutes for the first time all year.
Our young Terps had many opportunities to cave in under the pressure tonight. For me, the most salient moment– the moment when I knew we would be in it until the last second, occurred with about 11 minutes left. UNC began to score in bunches, and the Terps actually went toe-to-toe with them for a few possessions. As the scoring spurt continued, UNC started getting the best of the frenetic pace.
Up four, Eric Hayes shot a three, and the ball was 90% in the hole and somehow, it rimmed out. UNC got the ball and gave it to Ellington who immediately hit a three. A six-point turnaround and Maryland’s lead had been trimmed to one. The entire stadium thought that Carolina was about to go on a run and put the game away.
What ensued were the defining moments of the game, and perhaps the Terps season. How would the Terps respond? After the timeout, the Terps went down to Gist (after moving the ball around the perimeter) and he scored. It was a tough shot, but he took the shot within the flow of the offense. Over the next few minutes of play, the Terps actually extended the lead. Maryland was not going away.
When the post script is written on the 2007-08 season, it could be that the sequence I just described propelled the Terps toward a memorable February and March. The road ahead is not easy, but with a win like today’s, anything seems possible.
As Wheels noted in his comments, I’ll be convinced if the Terps are able to play consistently through the Duke game and into the UVa and GT contests. But it is too early to think about that now. The Terps have the week off before the hated Blue Devils come to town. That should be enough to keep the boys riding high until next Sunday night.
One final anecdote: Maryland came into today’s game ranked #122 in the RPI. What do you think a road win vs. the RPI #2 team will do to those rankings? For the first time all year, I actually be inclined to check when the new rankings come out.