GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Slumped against a wall across from his team’s dressing room at the Greensboro Coliseum, Maryland men’s basketball coach Mark Turgeon couldn’t get Florida State center Boris Bojanovsky’s dunk out of his head.
The play, with less than a second left in Thursday’s second-round Atlantic Coast Conference tournament game, not only gave the Seminoles a 67-65 victory, but it also ended the Terps’ 61-year association with the league here on Tobacco Road.
Turgeon said his team was well aware that this was its last chance at the ACC tournament, but he said the Terps had more emotion about playing less than two days after the death of former team manager Zach Lederer, who passed away at 20 after a lengthy battle with brain cancer.
“We talked about it [being the last ACC tournament] throughout the game. We talked about it at halftime,” Turgeon said. “Today was a little more about Zach Lederer than about the ACC, but we saw there were at least 3,000 Maryland fans here, so we knew what it meant to them.
“It wasn’t from lack of effort. Our effort was tremendous today. We missed some shots, we missed some layups, and they made some shots. Just kind of the way it’s gone. We just weren’t quite good enough again.”
Whether Maryland’s season will continue is up for debate, though it’s clear that the Terps (17-15) will not be going to the NCAA tournament for a fourth straight season — the longest stretch without an invitation since former coach Gary Williams inherited a program about to go on NCAA probation.
The Terps will find out Sunday night if they are headed to their second straight National Invitation Tournament; they reached the semifinals of that event last year.
The way Bojanovsky’s game-winning dunk developed summed up Maryland’s season. The Terps forced Florida State guard Ian Miller (17 points) to give up the ball, then sophomore forward Jake Layman tipped a pass into the hands of the 7-foot-3 Bojanovsky for a slam with 0.4 seconds left.
“It’s been that kind of season. The ball just hasn’t been bouncing our way,” Layman said in a quiet locker room. “We kept fighting all year.”
Despite playing without junior forward Evan Smotrycz, a late scratch because of back spasms, Maryland took a six-point lead late in the first half and led by two, 34-32, at halftime.
After losing sophomore forward Charles Mitchell for a stretch in the second half with a dislocated finger, Maryland fell behind by 11 points, 56-45, with 9:39 to go. As they have often done, the Terps made a late, if ill-fated, charge.
As he has done for most of the season, junior guard Dez Wells led the Terps back, scoring 13 of his 18 points in the second half and helping Maryland twice tie the game, the second time on a pair of free throws with 15.1 seconds left.
Sophomore guard Seth Allen also scored 18, with 13 coming in the first half.
Asked if this defeat hurt more because it was the team’s last ACC game before leaving for the Big Ten, Wells said: “Each loss hurts the same. It doesn’t matter to me. The conference I play in doesn’t matter to me. Basketball is basketball wherever you play. Losing hurts, the way that we lost hurts so bad. ... Just one play like that can cost you the game.”
Junior guard Nick Faust (City), whose team-high seven turnovers offset his team-high five assists and two steals, said it was “definitely not the way we wanted it to end. ... Definitely the ball hasn’t bounced our way a lot of the time. Tonight the opportunity was there, but we didn’t close it.”
Wells, who grew up a Duke fan in nearby Raleigh, called Maryland’s six decades in the ACC “a great ride.”
“There’s no other way to put it,” he said. “Me watching all the games growing up, all the rivalries and the great games. I think this game will go down in history.”
In truth, only those associated with Maryland will take many memories from this game. Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton, whose 19-12 Seminoles will face top-seeded Virginia today in the quarterfinals, noted that “it might be historical to other people, but it [being the last game for the Terps] meant very little to us. We just wanted to go win.”
Some of the Maryland fans who left Greensboro Coliseum on Thursday afternoon planned to be back for the other games this weekend. But most figured this to be their last ACC tournament. Mike Meitl, who grew up in Ellicott City and now lives in Greensboro, said he is looking forward to the future.
“I’ll miss it. I’ve always loved the ACC. But I’m ready to go on to the Big Ten and see what happens, form new rivalries and all that,” said Meitl, 36. “Right now I’m really ticked because I felt we got robbed.”
He was not alone. When Wells was called for a blocking foul in the first half — replays showed he had a foot in the charge circle under the basket — one fan yelled out, “Hey ref, we ain’t left the ACC yet.”
Then there was Turgeon, who saw another potential victory elude his team at the last second. It was the fourth time in the past five games that the outcome came down to the very end, with one game going into overtime and another double overtime. Maryland won only one of those, beating then-No. 5 Virginia on Sunday in overtime in the last ACC regular season game at Comcast Center.
“It’s been a tough year,” Turgeon said. “The thing I’m most proud of, though, a lot of teams would have quit. A lot of teams wouldn’t have played spirited basketball all the way through.”
Asked later about how the outcome seemed to sum up the season, Turgeon forced a tired smile.
“I’m a lucky guy. I’m really blessed. I’m the guy that gets the bounce. I’m the guy that banks the shot in,” he said. “I’m that guy, and this year I haven’t been that guy.”
Maybe next year, in a new league, in a different part of the country.
After 61 years, and four ACC tournament championships, the Terps are done with the place they call Tobacco Road.