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Terps end season with silver lining

March 23, 2009|By DAVID GINSBURG

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Under different circumstances, Maryland might have been bitterly disappointed to end its season with a lopsided defeat.

The Terrapins displayed no shame Saturday when they walked off court following an 89-70 loss to Memphis in the second round of the NCAA tournament. The setback did nothing to detract from what they had accomplished to that point, and each player knew the situation could have been much worse.

After all, their final game didn't take place in the NIT.

Maryland seemed destined to miss the NCAA tournament for the fourth time in five years before mounting a late surge that netted a No. 10 seed in the West Regional. The Terrapins then beat California before finally succumbing to third-ranked Memphis.

"I know overall, once we look back on this season," guard Eric Hayes said, "it's going to be a great one for us."

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Maryland (21-14) extended its string of 19-win seasons to 13 and made its 15th consecutive postseason appearance. After a stretch of five losses in seven January games, the Terrapins appeared to be NIT-bound. But coach Gary Williams never lost faith in his band of undersized athletes, and they never stopped improving.

"They were incredible in terms of support for me, No. 1, and their ability to be resilient I think is the thing I'll remember about this team," Williams said after Saturday's defeat in Kansas City, Mo.

This wasn't the finest team Williams fielded during his two decades at his alma mater, but it was one of the grittiest. It was also one of the youngest -- forward Dave Neal was the only senior.

Maryland's best player, junior guard Greivis Vasquez, will decide over the next few months whether to leave Maryland to take a stab at playing in the NBA. If he decides to return -- and if Williams can add some height in the frontcourt -- the Terrapins should be even better in 2009-10.

Hayes and Landon Milbourne were heavy contributors and will provide senior leadership next season. Guards Cliff Tucker and Adrian Bowie stepped up in their second year at Maryland, and freshman Sean Mosley played well enough to crack the starting lineup in the latter part of the season.

Sophomore forward Dino Gregory didn't put up stellar numbers, but he became a presence under the basket during the postseason and could be a factor next season.

"I think this team could be the foundation to get us back into the Top 25," athletic director Debbie Yow said.

The unsightly loss to Memphis wasn't pretty, but it didn't ruin a season worth savoring.

"We were one of the 64 to make it, and we were one of the teams to get to 32," Williams said. "So I'll remember that about this team, and how they competed all year."

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