CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -It's hard to imagine how badly Gary Williams must have wanted this win.
Williams' Terrapins missed a chance to make a much-needed statement to the NCAA tournament selection committee when their late comeback fell short and they lost, 68-63, yesterday to a Virginia team that had dropped four games in a row.
"It hurts," said Williams, who wore the distant look afterward of a man stuck in a moment gone by. Maryland players said they could still make the NCAAs with a deep run in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament beginning in Atlanta on Thursday.
"We've got to get ready for the ACC tournament and go down there and make some noise," said senior Dave Neal, who called the game "the toughest loss probably in my career."
Using three-point shots, the Terps (18-12, 7-9) erased a nine-point deficit to tie the score at 61 with 1:46 left. But forward Mamadi Diane, honored before the game on Senior Day, hit a three-pointer with 38 seconds left to put Virginia ahead 64-61.
"There was no better way to finish off one's career and season," Virginia coach Dave Leitao said of Diane's shot.
Maryland's chance to tie ended in confusion. The Terps run different offenses against a zone defense than against a man-to-man. They seemed uncertain which offense to run as junior guard Greivis Vasquez took the ball. Surrounded by defenders, he tossed up a runner that missed.
"At first, Coach Williams called a zone play, and then he saw they were in man and then he called a man play," Neal said of the play. "By then the pressure they were giving Greivis kind of made him a little nervous, and so he drove the ball."
Said Vasquez: "I take responsibility on that play. I got confused. I didn't know what we were running."
Virginia (10-17, 4-12) hit four foul shots to seal the win.
Vasquez walked into the tunnel alone when it was over, as if he wanted to be off the court as quickly as possible.
Williams said Vasquez wasn't to blame.
"It isn't all about the last play. There's 39 minutes before that," the coach said.
Had it won, Maryland would have clinched a No. 7 seed in the ACC tournament and played No. 10 seed North Carolina State on Thursday night.
The Terps could still get the seventh seed. A loss by Virginia Tech today against Florida State would leave the Terps and Hokies with 7-9 marks. Maryland would win the tiebreaker because it beat Virginia Tech this season.
In 2003-04, Maryland made the NCAA tournament with a 7-9 record in the ACC regular season. But the Terps won the ACC tournament that season.
"We might have to make something impossible possible," Vasquez said of the ACC tournament. "At least two good wins would get us back in [to the NCAAs]."
Maryland has missed the NCAA tournament three of four seasons.
Maryland built a 21-8 lead on defense and cold Virginia shooting. The Cavaliers missed 14 of their first 17 shots.
But then Virginia got hot. It hit seven of nine attempts and trailed only 27-26 at halftime.
Against Virginia's man-to-man defense, Maryland seemed to create open shots by kicking the ball inside and then back out to the three-point line. But the Terps - 10th in the ACC in three-point shooting - missed 16 of their first 18 shots from beyond the arc and were 5-for-22 overall on three-point tries.
Virginia's zone defense gave Maryland trouble.
"When they went zone, we couldn't score the last 10 minutes of the first half. We just slowed down," Vasquez said.
play it again
Keys to the game
Maryland, struggling against Virginia's zone defense, allowed the Cavaliers to go on an 11-0 run in the first half that pulled them to within 21-19. The Terps shot 5-for-22 on threes.
Did you notice
* Maryland got to the foul line only six times, making four. Virginia shot 20-for-24 on free throws.
* A sizable Maryland contingent at the arena chanted "Let's go Maryland" and "Gary, Gary."
* Cliff Tucker, Greivis Vasquez and Eric Hayes shot air balls from long range, but Dave Neal and Hayes hit big three-pointers to pull Maryland into a tie at 61.
Left to ponder
Would two wins in the Atlantic Coast
Conference tournament be enough to
vault the Terrapins into the NCAAs?