It was the last time Maryland had upset a No. 1-ranked North Carolina team on its home court and, realistically, most figured that it would be the only win for the Terrapins this weekend.
This season's Terps now have their own contribution to ESPN Classic, an 82-80 shocker yesterday over the top-ranked and previously unbeaten Tar Heels that silenced an announced 21,033 and immediately turned around what had been a shaky season in College Park.
Led by senior forward James Gist, who outplayed All-American Tyler Hansbrough, Maryland never wavered, even after seeing its 11-point lead early in the second half turn into a four-point deficit with less than 2 1/2 minutes to play.
The Terps finished the game on an 8-2 run, including what turned out to be the game-winning basket by Bambale Osby with 21.6 seconds remaining, then survived three shots by the Tar Heels in the final seconds, the last a three-point try by Hansbrough right before the buzzer.
Gist scored 22 points, five more than Hansbrough, and contributed 13 rebounds to lead Maryland (12-7, 2-2) to its second straight Atlantic Coast Conference victory. As importantly, the Terps held the high-scoring Tar Heels (18-1, 3-1) 18 points below their home-court scoring average and forced North Carolina to miss 49 of 79 shots, including 16 of 23 threes.
It was Maryland's first win here since the 2002-03 season, with the past three losses by 11, 34 (when Gist was a freshman) and 24 points, respectively. The teams didn't play here last season.
"Our main thing, we had to start off hard. We're playing against the No. 1 team. We had to set the tone, we had to let them know, 'Look we're here to play,' " Gist said after perhaps his best game at Maryland.
The Terps went inside early to Gist and Osby (12 points), and got enough on the perimeter from sophomore guard Greivis Vasquez (12 points, 11 assists) sophomore forward Landon Milbourne (14 points) and sophomore guard Eric Hayes (eight points in 13 minutes) to keep North Carolina on its heels.
"They definitely surprised me in the first half. They were executing their offense and pretty much bullying us down low and getting the ball where they wanted to," North Carolina forward Danny Green said.
Surviving a couple of trademark Tar Heels runs in the first half, Maryland pushed out to a 41-36 halftime lead and increased its edge to 53-42 with 15:14 remaining. North Carolina made another run and seemingly was in control at 78-74 after a three-point play by Green - on his team's third shot of the possession - with 2:29 left.
But just as the crowd was about to erupt, the Terps answered with six straight points before Hansbrough tied the score at 80.
Maryland coach Gary Williams wouldn't admit that win No. 597 was one of the most satisfying in his three decades as a coach or his 19 seasons at his alma mater.
"I coach my team. At this point in my career, I'm not looking for moral victories or anything. My job is to win as many games I can this year," said Williams, who will have a week to get his team ready for Duke's visit next Sunday to Comcast Center. "I came in here thinking we had to win this game. We had to do a lot of things right."
Osby said that the team, like its coach, came here with a chip on its collective shoulder. The players knew that nobody outside their locker room - and maybe some inside the locker room - expected the Terps to pull off one of the biggest upsets of the college basketball season.
"On the bus ride over here, we were listening to all the guys on ESPN, and they said Carolina plays Duke in two weeks, and that's their first chance at a loss. They completely looked over us," Osby said. "People were counting us out, saying that we can't do it, so let's show 'em how good we are."
Another ESPN Classic, circa 2008, is wrapped.
Play it again
A WINNING PLAY
While Maryland ran several pick-and-roll plays with success, none was bigger than the one used for the game-winning basket. After Tyler Hansbrough tied the score at 80, Bambale Osby drew the North Carolina center to the perimeter, and Greivis Vasquez fed Osby, who curled back inside and brushed aside Danny Green for a layup.
'MIRACLE' FOR HAYES
Maryland coach Gary Williams said Friday that it would be "a miracle" for sophomore guard Eric Hayes to play against North Carolina after he missed two weeks because of a sprained left ankle. Not only did Hayes play 13 minutes off the bench, but he also made his first shot, a three-pointer, and finished with eight points.
What helped Maryland immensely was staying out of foul trouble. No Terps player had more than three fouls, while three Tar Heels - defensive stopper Marcus Ginyard, point guard Ty Lawson and reserve center Alex Stepheson - had four, limiting their effectiveness in the second half.
Before yesterday, most thought Maryland would need every one of the eight days between North Carolina and Duke. Now, Gary Williams probably wishes the Terps played mid-week, rather than having to wait for the Blue Devils to come to Comcast Center. The price of tickets on eBay just went up - a lot.