TEMPE, Ariz. - Exree Hipp's eyes were red-rimmed and watery, and his voice cracked with emotion.
Johnny Rhodes and Mario Lucas wore the blank expressions that typified their on-court demeanor.
And Duane Simpkins, whose freshly shaved head became a symbol of change, carried the look of resignation.
"We just can't really believe four years went by like that and are over with," Hipp said after 10th-seeded Santa Clara shocked seventh-seeded Maryland, 91-79, yesterday in the West regional. "We've got to move on with life and try to do other things."
When Hipp, Rhodes and Simpkins came off the floor at Arizona State's University Activity Center and joined Lucas on the Terps' bench with 36.1 seconds left, the small Maryland contingent in a crowd of 10,728 rose for one last ovation. But almost predictably, that ovation was lost in the rising din of the celebrating Santa Clara fans.
Simpkins said he fought to keep his composure as he walked off the court for the last time in a Maryland uniform.
"Just keep your head up," he said he told himself. "Don't let anyone see you breaking down. It's fine to be emotional. [But] I've been through too much to let down. I'll do that in private."
There are rough farewells, and then there was Maryland's farewell.
A season that once offered so much promise came to an abysmal end with 40.8 percent field-goal shooting, with 45.5 free-throw shooting, with a trapping defense that was neutralized by Santa Clara's brilliant point guard Steve Nash, who scored 28 points and dished for 12 assists.
The final decisive turn in the Terps' season came early in the second half. They went seven minutes with only one field goal, and Santa Clara's 14-0 run turned a one-point game into a 15-point chasm.
In the end, the Terps exited with a 17-13 record and a lingering suspicion they had underachieved. The loss was Maryland's first first-round defeat in 13 NCAA appearances, the first in six first-round appearances for coach Gary Williams.
Williams opened his postgame news conference with a note of thanks.
"Very few seniors accomplished what Duane, Mario, Johnny Rhodes and Exree have done," he said. "Two Sweet 16s and an NCAA appearance. They brought us back from a situation where we might never have been able to be good enough to be competitive in the ACC. I really appreciate that."
They were the recruiting class that played through NCAA sanctions, that enabled Williams to recruit Keith Booth and Joe Smith a year later.
Rhodes, who signed off in his final game with a stalwart 27 points, nine rebounds and five steals, said there were tears "and stuff like that" in the Maryland locker room after the game.
There was also a word of advice from Simpkins, the team's senior co-captain.
"The coach said his part, and I told the guys 'No matter what, don't let anybody tell you we didn't have a good year,' " Simpkins said. "We had a damn good year."
The Terps felt an air of disrespect coming into the NCAA tournament this season after back-to-back Sweet 16s, Rhodes said.
"People didn't expect us to get in the tournament," Rhodes said. "Then a lot of people were shocked at the seed we got." Their last game proved to be a test of perseverance for the seniors. Rhodes had a big game, but the other three struggled. Simpkins scored 10 points, but was uncharacteristically cold from outside, hitting just four of 14 overall and one of six three-point shots.
Hipp ended his season of frustration with a three-point, three-steal effort. And Lucas went out shooting one for six. But fittingly, his only field goal was a three.
"This isn't the way I imagined going out," Lucas said.
"I want that game back more than anybody else. But you only get one chance. It hurts now, and it's going to hurt down the road, not going out playing the best we could play."
Pub Date: 3/16/96