COLLEGE PARK - This was supposed to be the start of the final push toward securing another NCAA men's tournament berth. This was supposed to be a night when the Maryland Terrapins enjoyed the fruits of home-court advantage and got their late-season kick going.
Forget about it. Last night before a testy sellout crowd at Comcast Center, 18th-ranked Georgia Tech discarded its long history of failure in College Park, kept the Terps planted in seventh place in the Atlantic Coast Conference and dealt a serious blow to Maryland's NCAA tournament hopes with a 75-64 victory.
The Terps (13-9, 4-7 ACC) are still alive, but they appear to be fading fast. After losing its third home game in conference play, Maryland must travel to Cameron Indoor Stadium on Sunday to face No. 3 Duke. The first-place Blue Devils have lost two in a row but are riding a 39-game winning streak at home.
Led by a game-high 21 points from sophomore point guard Jarrett Jack and a tremendous effort from its bench, Georgia Tech (19-6, 6-5) moved into a third-place tie with Wake Forest and exposed Maryland's familiar problems in the process. The Yellow Jackets also won at Maryland for the first time in 10 years and swept the regular-season series from the Terps for the first time since the 1992-93 season.
That was the last time Maryland failed to make the NCAA tournament. And last night's downer left the Terps on rapidly thinning ice. Maryland probably needs to win at least three of its last five games to get into the tournament. In addition to Duke, the Terps must face No. 15 Wake Forest at home and No. 13 N.C. State on the road.
Not that Terps coach Gary Williams was throwing in the towel by any stretch.
"This thing is a long way from being over," Williams said. "We will play hard on Sunday. Nothing is slipping through my hands. You've got to win them when you can. We have five league games left. I've seen stranger things happen."
There was little strange about last night's defeat, other than a malfunctioning shot clock at one end of the court. The clock first went out with the Terps in front 22-13 with 8:28 left in the first half. Maryland maintained its lead at 27-19, but then the worst-shooting team in the league started acting that way.
Georgia Tech stormed back with a 16-2 run. It took its first lead when Jack converted a three-point play to make it 31-29 with 1:53 left in the first half. The Yellow Jackets led 35-31 at the half, cruised through most of the second half, withstood a late 8-0 Maryland run that cut the advantage to 62-58 with 3:24 left, then pulled away easily.
Backup guard Will Bynum and reserve forward Clarence Moore each scored 12 points for Tech, which also got nine points from backup forward Isma'il Muhammad. Junior guard B.J. Elder added 10 points for the Yellow Jackets, who shot 51 percent from the field.
If only Maryland could get near such proficiency. Other than getting a career-high 16 points from sophomore forward Travis Garrison, no one hit the mark for the Terps, who weighed in with another night of bricked shots. Maryland shot 32.4 percent, including just 3-for-20 from three-point range.
Where to begin? Sophomore point guard John Gilchrist missed his first six shots, got in early foul trouble and fouled out with 3:02 left after scoring four points on 1-for-7 shooting. Senior center Jamar Smith shot 1-for-12 en route to a season-low three points. Sophomore forward Nik Caner-Medley scored 10 points on 5-for-16 shooting.
"You've got to put the ball in the basket at some point. I thought we had some good looks. It gets old," Williams said. "Once again, we put ourselves in a hole we couldn't get out of. That's been a consistency about our team."
Said Caner-Medley: "When you're not making open shots, you're not going to make the tough ones. The only thing you can do is keep shooting and continue to work on your game. We're not counting ourselves out."
Garrison hurt the Yellow Jackets from everywhere early. He hit a three-point basket, a pair of medium-range jumpers, converted two free throws and followed up a missed shot by D.J. Strawberry with a ferocious dunk that made it 20-13. Freshman guard Mike Jones then followed a miss by Gilchrist with a dunk to stretch the lead to 22-13 with 8:28 left in the first half.
That's when Maryland's momentum got an unexpected interruption, as one of the shot clocks went blank in the $125 million arena and caused a seven-minute delay.
Maryland was able to extend its lead to 27-19 after the dead time, but Georgia Tech finally awakened with its first run of the contest, and it was a 16-2 spurt that pushed the Yellow Jackets to a 35-29 lead with 55 seconds left in the half.
When Jack made back-to-back three-pointers to give the Yellow Jackets a 53-40 lead with 11:56 left in the game, the tide had turned for good.
And the ice is growing thin beneath Maryland's feet, as the Terps are now the only ACC team with a losing record (2-3) at home in league play.
"This was definitely a must win, but it didn't happen," Garrison said. "We can't worry about it now. We lost this game. We have to move on. Some people are probably counting us out. We're not. We've got to go down to Duke and win that game."
Next for Terps
Matchup: Maryland (13-9, 4-7 ACC) vs. No. 3 Duke (21-3, 10-2)
Site: Cameron Indoor Stadium, Durham, N.C.
When: Sunday, 4 p.m.
TV/Radio: Chs. 13, 9/WBAL (1090 AM)