SAN ANTONIO - This time, there would be no last-second heroics for the Maryland Terrapins, who relinquished their grip as defending NCAA champions last night at the Alamodome, but not without the kind of fight that has characterized the Terps this season.
Senior point guard Steve Blake missed a game-winning, three-point attempt from the top of the key as time expired, and the seventh-seeded Michigan State Spartans survived a furious late rally by No. 6 seed Maryland to escape with a 60-58 victory in a hard-fought NCAA tournament South Regional semifinal before 33,009.
The Spartans (22-12) will face top-seeded Texas in tomorrow's regional championship game. Maryland, bidding to become the only team in America to have gone to the past three Elite Eight rounds, finished 21-10.
With Maryland's elimination, the Atlantic Coast Conference will not have an Elite Eight representative for the first time in 24 years.
It all ended so suddenly for the Terps, who looked dead for most of the game's first 30 minutes, trailed 54-40 with 6:58 left, then used their pressure defense to put together a 15-0 run to take their first lead of the game, 55-54, with 3:44 to go.
The Terps held a 58-56 lead with 1:30 left. But Spartans freshman backup center Paul Davis, who led an outstanding effort by the Michigan State bench with a team-high 13 points, scored the game's final four points. His dunk with a minute left tied it at 58. Davis then banked in a five-foot runner for the game's decisive score with 4.7 seconds left.
That left Maryland - which survived a first-round scare a week ago on a buzzer-beating, three-point shot by Drew Nicholas - with a chance to win or force overtime. And the season ended with Blake taking an inbounds pass from senior forward Tahj Holden, dribbling downcourt to the top of the key, and letting fly with a shot that struck the back of the iron.
"I got a good look at it. I can make that shot all of the time. It just wouldn't go down this time," said Blake, who finished with 11 points, six rebounds, five steals, three assists and five turnovers and was near tears along with numerous other Terps in the Maryland locker room. "I feel anger. I feel disappointed. I feel like I let my teammates down. I did not want to finish like this."
Nicholas, who finished with a game-high 18 points, said: "This is tough. I expect to win every game we play. I don't have any minutes left in my college career."
It was a defensive struggle for both teams and an uphill battle for Maryland all night. Michigan State played its typically bruising game down low, threw changing defensive looks at the Terps, and alternated control of the tempo with success. Eight Spartans scored. Backup guard Maurice Ager and small forward Alan Anderson scored 10 points each.
The Terps shot a season-worst 12.5 percent from three-point range, recorded a season-low eight assists and trailed for the game's first 37 minutes. In the middle of the first half, Maryland digested a bad omen when it lost freshman forward Nik Caner-Medley to a dislocated left ankle.
Senior center Ryan Randle and senior power forward Tahj Holden combined for just 14 points on 4-for-17 shooting.
Maryland's first sign of life came at the outset of the second half, when the Terps had an 8-0 run, tying the score at 32 after the Spartans had taken a 29-24 halftime lead, then extended the margin on a three-pointer by Erazem Lorbek.
Randle and Blake then scored four points each to account for Maryland's run. Nicholas followed his 18-footer with a layup to tie the score with 16:42 left in the game.
And just like that, the Spartans took off and ran away from the Terps, mixing a potent transition game with their excellent depth to knock Maryland on its heels with a 15-2 run that gave the Spartans a 47-34 lead with 12:04 left in the game.
Ager stepped up to score seven points during the run, while the Terps shot a dismal 1-for-11 and committed several turnovers. As if things didn't look bleak enough during that stretch, Blake stole the ball near midcourt, dribbled down the floor, then bricked an easy layup against the rim.
The Terps finally broke their drought with a five-point run, capped by a three-pointer from the right corner by Nicholas to cut the lead to 47-39 with 9:52 left. Michigan State then eased out to a 54-40 lead at the 6:58 mark.
And the Terps, who have been so hard to put away for most of the season, reached back to take one more punch at Michigan State and made a thrilling 15-0 run to take their first lead of the night.
Backups John Gilchrist and Jamar Smith were the Maryland catalysts - especially Gilchrist, who generated three steals out of the Terps' pressure defense during the run. Smith started it by converting a three-point play. Holden and Blake each made two free throws. Smith made a put-back to cut it to 54-49 with 5:43 left.
Then Gilchrist took over by forcing three steals, turning one of them into a layup and creating a chance for Nicholas to make two free throws, cutting the lead to 54-53. Holden then stole the ball at midcourt and fed Blake, who drove for a layup that gave the Terps a 55-54 lead with 3:44 left.
"We played awfully well for 32 minutes, as well as we can play," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "We ran our offense, and that's hard to do against a pretty good defensive team. We got tired. That's why they're the defending champs. They smelled blood and went after it."
Said Maryland coach Gary Williams: "Every win is a relief. Losing is worse, especially losing this time of the year. You don't get to practice tomorrow. You don't get to work on something you need to work on.
"But we had a chance to win the game, and with seven minutes left, I didn't think we had a chance to win the game. I told our guys we've got to be a tough out, and that's the way we went out."