Nicholas lifts Maryland to next round

Published 6:45 am Saturday, March 22, 2003

By By PAUL NEWBERRY, AP Sports Writer
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Maryland isn't ready to give up its national championship just yet.
Drew Nicholas hit a desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Terrapins a stunning 75-73 victory over North Carolina-Wilmington on Friday night in the opening round of the NCAA South Regional.
Aaron Coombs made two free throws with five seconds left to give the 11th-seeded Seahawks a 73-72 lead, putting them in position to pull off a tourney surprise for the second year in a row.
But Nicholas took the inbounds pass, dribbled nearly the length of the court and managed to launch a fall-away 3 off his back foot with Anthony Terrell right in his face.
The ball swished through as the horn sounded, helping No. 6 seed Maryland avoid becoming the first defending champion since UCLA in 1996 to get knocked out in the first round.
After Nicholas' shot, several Maryland players raced off the court in delirium, while Seahawks coach Brad Brownell collapsed to the floor in disbelief.
The officials called everyone back to look at the video replay. But it clearly showed that Nicholas got the shot off with a half-second to spare.
The Terrapins got to celebrate again when the basket was ruled good. But this time it was more subdued, with both teams gathering in front of the scorer's table to shake hands with each other, a fitting end to a thrilling game.
UNC-Wilmington freshman John Goldsberry set a tournament record by shooting 8-of-8 from outside the 3-point arc, finishing with a career-high 26 points. Brett Blizzard struggled most of the night, then hit three crucial 3s late in the game to put the Seahawks in position for the upset.
A year ago, UNC-Wilmington (24-7) opened with a 93-89 overtime victory against fourth-seeded Southern California. This time, the Seahawks had a No. 6 seed on the ropes, but couldn't finish the job.
Nicholas scored 22 points, including 5-of-8 shooting from outside the arc.
The Terrapins (20-9) advanced to meet third-seeded Xavier, a 71-59 winner over Troy State.
Maryland lost four starters from the team that beat Indiana for the national title 11 1/2 months ago in Atlanta.
For that reason, coach Gary Williams considered it an achievement that his team fought through an up-and-down season to make its 10th straight tournament appearance.
Still, the Terps didn't want their title reign to end in the first round. They consider themselves the champion until someone takes it away.
The Seahawks almost did. Led by Goldsberry and Blizzard (4-of-12 from 3-point range), they took more shots from outside the arc (29) than inside (26), making 13 of the long-range attempts.
UNC-Wilmington was in great shape when Craig Callahan sank two free throws with 1:41 remaining for a 71-67 lead, then Tahj Holden missed an awkward jumper at the other end.
But Joel Justus missed a 3-pointer, and Ryan Randle made a couple of free throws with 41 seconds remaining. Justus squandered another chance with a one-and-one, missing the front end. Steve Blake made the Seahawks pay by nailing a 3 from the corner with 20 seconds left, putting Maryland ahead 72-71.
Then it was left to Nicholas, who made his second game-winning shot in three weeks. On March 2, he hit an even longer 3-pointer with 1.5 seconds left to beat North Carolina State.
Maryland should have known this would be a tough day when three white uniforms were stolen from the team's downtown hotel earlier in the day.
The Seahawks, who were scheduled to wear their road uniforms as the lower-seeded team, agreed to switch to home white so Maryland could wear their red outfits.
Goldsberry, who normally runs the offense, wound up playing a key role when Blizzard struggled. The freshman point guard easily eclipsed his previous career high of 12 points against Hofstra on Feb. 15. He was averaging a mere 4.2 points a game.
Goldsberry was so hot that the crowd screamed ''Shoot!'' just about every time he touched the ball late in the game.
Goldsberry broke Sam Cassell's tourney record for 3-point accuracy. Cassell went 7-of-7 for Florida State against Tulane in 1993.
The Seahawks played without guard Tim Burnette, their third-leading scorer at 11 points a game. He was suspended indefinitely for violating team rules before the team traveled to Nashville.
UNC-Wilmington was up 34-29 in the first half when Maryland came back. Holden started a 13-0 run with a dunk, then Nicholas, Blake and Andre Collins made consecutive 3-pointers.
Maryland pushed the lead to 57-47 with less than 16 minutes remaining, but the Seahawks chipped away and finally went ahead, 65-62, when Blizzard hit the second of three straight 3s with 4:52 remaining.