Butler Did It. Terps Did Not.

What an awful day.

It started by me going to FIVE different sports bars in Chicago to look for the game. None of them had it. Why on Earth would a sports bar choose not to buy the Direct TV package for the NCAA Tournament? It took me an hour and half to find the game.

By the time I found the game at an unbelievably packed ESPN Zone, there were seven minutes left in SECOND HALF. That’s right. I missed the majority of the game. I can’t comment on what I didn’t see. What I saw in the last 7 minutes made me sick.

We missed plenty of opportunities, that’s for sure. There are three things in the final minutes that I am still struggling to get my arms around and probably will be until November.

1. With less than three minutes to go, the Terps were down 2 with a chance to tie, and DJ (running the break) decides to take an off-balance 15 footer with 30 seconds left on the shot clock. ABSOLUTELY INEXCUSABLE! If Mike Jones had done that, I think Gary Williams would have ripped Jones’ heart out of his chest and shoved it down the guard’s throat while it was still beating. Instead? They get back from commercial and there is DJ, calmly sipping water. That sequence summed up the frustrations of DJ’s tenure at Maryland.

2. Fast forward to the final minute. DJ cutting to the hole catches the ball and gets blocked by a Butler player who was clearly late to the spot. Offensive foul, Maryland. What? Were we playing Duke? How can a professional official make a call like that? Ruin a team’s season on such a terrible call? Whoever that guy is, he should be ashamed of himself. If he happens to live in the Greater Chicago area, I wouldn’t be surprised if he discovers his house TP’d.

In my mind, this as yet unnamed official has earned a place in history next to the umpire from the 1996 ALCS (the Tony Tarasco game), and the entire crew from the 2001 Final Four.

3. What followed that horrendous call absolutely mystified me. 39 seconds left, down by 2 points, Gary Williams decided to play defense rather than foul. That may have been his worst decision in his tenure at Maryland. Read that sentence again. I am serious. I simply don’t understand it. I have not seen any post game comments (nor do I want to), but what explanation could Gary possibly give for that decision?

In that situation, you need to force the other team to beat you. By letting Butler run down the clock to under 4 seconds, we did them a huge favor. I would have rather taken my chances with these Butler kids shooting pressure free throws, than Maryland having to go the length of the court in four seconds for a tying score. I will never understand this even if Dean Smith, Phog Allen (from the grave), and John Wooden tried to convince me otherwise.

Sure, people will argue that Maryland should never have been in that position. The missed free throws killed us. Mike Jones hit four straight threes and then Gary puts him the bench? Why?

In summation, I am really f-cking pissed. I ran around Chicago (on St. Patrick’s Day no less), fought crowds, walked for what felt like miles, and still missed the majority of my team’s elimination game. It always sucks when your team gets eliminated from the Tournament. It sucks even more when your team shouldn’t have lost said game.

Butler is good, I’ll give it to them. But Maryland had 20+ turnovers for the game. 40 turnovers in two games? I guess this is a good time to remember that two freshman handle the point guard duties for the Terps. Not that I saw it with my own eyes, but I think it is clear that they showed their “freshman-ness” today.

As for the seniors, I suppose it was a fitting end for the careers of Jones, Ibekwe, and Strawberry. Dumb plays, sloppy passing, poor shot selection, but they were in it to the end. Those kids fought for four years and never gave up. Each of them possessed great athletic skill, but the tragic flaw in each of them was between the ears.

That’s sad but true. Now it is on to the “D” League or Bulgaria or Turkey or Italy or wherever they wind up playing professional ball. I wish them the best, but I doubt we will see any of them in the NBA. I give Jones the best shot because of his shooting and athletic ability, but I am not holding my breath.

I’m not quite ready to start looking ahead to next year, but there is nothing left for Terp fans to do. Maryland loses much of their scoring, but next year should be an improvement.

Returning to the frontcourt will be Osby and Gist. The backcourt will be run by Hayes with Vazquez at the two spot (if Jai Lucas comes, we start three guards). Burney and Milbourne will be in the mix. So will our incoming freshman class. We will be extremely young, but if we can make the Tournament, we will be more experienced and positioned to advance past the second round. At least, that is what I am telling myself so that I can get to sleep tonight.

Turtle Soup is not done. I will be posting throughout the year leading up to and including the football season. I will be making some major changes to the site so please send me your emails, so that I can be sure to keep you updated on any changes. Thanks for everything this season. You have all made this blog better than anything I could have ever hoped.

Here’s to a great season and an even better 2007-08.

-JG

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