NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Some will say that Maryland was lucky last night after Terps guard Drew Nicholas hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to defeat UNC-Wilmington, 75-73, in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Others will say it was a game Maryland should have won easily.
But there are no easy wins in the NCAA tournament, not when you're the University of Maryland. When you win, you high-five, jump up and down and celebrate.
Then you move on.
Many prognosticators thought playing in the South Regional would be an easy road to the Final Four for the Terps, but Maryland is far from being a great college basketball team. On their best night, the Terps can be a good team. On a bad night, they can be absolutely horrendous.
So for those who will simply dismiss Maryland's win over UNC-Wilmington as a game it should have won in the first place, please throw that idea away. Maryland's win last night was a good one against a quality opponent, a team just as good as Maryland (20-9).
"We were fortunate to win that game," said Maryland coach Gary Williams. "I look at Wilmington, and that's an incredible performance by them tonight.
"They played hard, and they're just a good team. We didn't play well the last couple of weeks of the season, and to turn it around like that at the end of the game, that was special."
Williams, though, was right. The Terps hadn't shown up in about three weeks. But last night, they got scoring inside. They got valuable minutes from their bench. They got clutch shooting down the stretch from their guards, the players who are supposed to carry this team. Maryland doesn't have a lot of blue-chip players on its roster, just a lot of guys who have to chip in for the team to win big games.
Last night, Nicholas delivered a running shot at the buzzer, and Maryland advanced to the second round tomorrow against Xavier. Nicholas has been on a mission since he failed to make first-team all-ACC at the end of the regular season. If he had missed, the defending national champions would be on a flight home this morning.
Instead, the Terps are still alive.
This was a big win for the Terps, who have struggled in two straight previous losses to Virginia and North Carolina. They had the look of a team that had quit last week against the Tar Heels in the ACC tournament.
"We really didn't feel we played our best game," Nicholas said. "Around this time, it's all about winning and advancing, and we were able to do that tonight."
The experts thought the Seahawks were going to be an easy win for Maryland, but that was a mistake. UNC-Wilmington has been to the tournament three of the past four years, and the Seahawks upset Southern California last year in the opening round. They were a well-disciplined and well-coached team last night, and they played without guard Tim Burnette, the team's second-leading scorer, who was sent home in violation of team policy.
But the Seahawks still had guards Brett Blizzard and John Goldsberry, who combined for 41 points. Goldsberry was 8-for-8 on three-point attempts. The tandem carried the Seahawks down the stretch.
But Maryland overcame, and this victory was just as good as an opening-round blowout. First of all, morale now has to high again. Second, Terps center Ryan Randle showed up and was 5-for-9 from the field with 15 points, and forward Nik Caner-Medley scored 12. The Terps held a 35-29 advantage in rebounds.
Williams also had to be happy with the way his team overcame foul trouble throughout the game, with Randle heading to the bench early in the game and senior point guard Steve Blake missing most of the second half with four fouls.
But the Terps survived because Blake's backup, John Gilchrist, played 15 minutes and contributed six points and three assists. They also got 11 quality minutes from Andre Collins, and then went to a 3-2 zone defense that shut down the Seahawks late in the first half, and for most of the second.
Williams, who has preferred pressure defense for most of his career at Maryland, will need to play strong zones against Xavier because the Musketeers have superior play underneath with forward David West and center/forward Anthony Myles.
The Terps also will need a stronger effort from Blake, who has continued to disappear in the postseason for the second straight year.
But the Terps don't play for another day. They still have time to celebrate. They were a No. 6 seed that beat a No. 11 seed, and the game had to go down to the last second.
But this was no gimme for Maryland. There is no such a thing for the Terps this season. They've had to work for almost every win, and they had to work hard again last night.
It wasn't pretty, but the mission was accomplished.