Finalists Show Escape Claws
Drew Nicholas wasn’t supposed to have the ball. Good thing for Maryland the intended play didn’t work out.
Nicholas dribbled nearly the length of the court and swished a desperation three-pointer as the horn sounded, giving the defending national champion Terrapins an improbable 75-73 victory over North Carolina Wilmington at the NCAA South Regional on Friday night.
The sixth-seeded Terrapins (20-9) wanted Steve Blake to have the ball on the final play, but UNC Wilmington’s swarming defense kept him from getting it.
So Nicholas got the inbounds pass and took off up the right side of the court. With less than a second remaining, he managed to launch a fall-away three off his back foot with Anthony Terrell right in his face.
“I took the ball as far as I could and tried to make something happen,” Nicholas said. “I know the shot probably didn’t look the prettiest, but it went in. I really couldn’t believe it when it went through.”
Neither could UNC Wilmington Coach Brad Brownell, who collapsed to the court in disbelief.
“We did everything we could,” he said. “Give credit to Drew Nicholas. He made the game-winner.”
Aaron Coombs sank two free throws with five seconds left, giving the 11th-seeded Seahawks (24-7) a 73-72 lead and putting them in position to pull off a tournament surprise for the second year in a row. Last season, they upset USC in the first round, 93-89.
Instead, Maryland avoided becoming the first defending champion since UCLA in 1996 to get knocked out in the first round.
After Nicholas’ shot, several Maryland players raced off the court in delirium, while the Seahawks stood around in a daze.
The officials called everyone back while they looked at the video replay. It clearly showed that Nicholas got the shot off with a half-second to spare.
UNC-Wilmington freshman John Goldsberry nearly stole the show. He set a tournament record by going eight for eight from outside the three-point arc, finishing with a career-high 26 points. He broke the seven-for-seven mark set by Florida State’s Sam Cassell in 1993.
Nicholas scored 22 points, including five-of-eight shooting from outside the arc, as the Terrapins advanced to meet third-seeded Xavier on Sunday in the second round.