SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- The atmosphere inside the Carrier Dome last night belied the second-class status of the National Invitation Tournament, as did the play of Maryland and Syracuse, two teams trying to prolong their disappointing seasons.
It was like old times for Gary Williams, but it turned sadly reminiscent of recent times for his Terrapins.
Williams, who celebrated one of his most significant career victories here six years ago en route to the school's first national championship in Atlanta, watched a familiar scene unfold in the course of a season-ending 88-72 loss to the Orange.
After a dominant first half in which he scored 18 points, senior forward James Gist disappeared for long stretches of the second half. So did Maryland's defense, which allowed the Orange to beat the Terps at their own transition game.
"They got a lot of layups, a lot of layups in transition," Gist said. "That was the game right there."
Said Williams: "It was sort of a microcosm of our season. We played a lot of great halves, but we couldn't finish the games."
Gist finished his Maryland career with 23 points, and senior center Bambale Osby added a career-high 21, but it was the play of two Syracuse freshmen that turned the game. Point guard Jonny Flynn led the Orange with 23 points, and former Towson Catholic star Donte Greene added 16.
While Maryland (19-15) regained a small measure of self-respect -- unlike two years ago when the Terps tanked an opening-round loss in the NIT to Manhattan at home -- it still doesn't hide the fact that they failed to make the NCAA tournament for the third time in four years.
"It wasn't a great season for us," said sophomore guard Greivis Vasquez, who finished with only eight points and eight assists, and seemed to wear down trying to stop the speedy Flynn. "Tonight we played great for 25 minutes and then we got flat."
After taking two early seven-point leads, then falling behind by as many as eight late in the first half, the Terps closed the half on a 6-0 run to trail, 40-38, and then went to Osby for three early baskets in the second half to take the lead.
But after an 8-0 run by Syracuse (21-13), the Terps never got closer than four, 63-59, as Flynn and Green continued to push the Orange despite its decided lack of depth and experience.
Williams seemed to get caught between trying to win the game and giving his younger players postseason experience, something that worked well in Tuesday's first-round win at Minnesota.
Syracuse's vaunted 2-3 zone also took its toll, as the Terps tried to force the ball inside to Osby and Gist because they couldn't get anything going on the perimeter (6-for-19 on threes, a combined 4-for-13 by Vasquez and Eric Hayes).
"That zone, man, we broke down a couple of times in our offense, it just started wearing on you," Osby said.
Though the Terps didn't blow a big second-half lead as they did in crushing regular-season losses to Virginia Tech and Clemson, as well as in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament to Boston College, they couldn't come back after the Orange took control.
Syracuse's athleticism, especially with Flynn, was just another example of what the Terps lacked in the backcourt. The Orange also outmuscled Maryland inside, with center Arinze Onuaku, who grew up in Lanham, finishing with 14 rebounds to go with 14 points.
While Maryland fans lament their team's finish, the Terps hope to build off the NIT appearance as they move forward.
"For the young guys, it was a real successful season," Osby said. "They helped us out a lot. We had a winning record, we did some really good things, we did a couple of bad things. For the most part, I would say it was a successful season."
Summing up the season, Gist said, "It didn't end like I wanted it to. I wanted to go to the NCAA tournament like any college basketball player. You've got four years here, it's college basketball. You've got to take advantage of every year you've got."