Nearly three weeks ago, Maryland stayed on track for a share of its first ACC title in eight years with Cliff Tucker’s buzzer-beating shot against Georgia Tech.
The Yellow Jackets are also the first opponent in the 19th-ranked Terrapins’ path to their first conference tournament championship since 2004.
Maryland will try to capture its eighth straight win overall and 10th in a row over Georgia Tech in Friday night’s ACC quarterfinals in Greensboro, N.C.
The Terps (23-7) finished tied with Duke atop the ACC at 13-3 - thanks in part to a thrilling finish Feb. 20 at home against the Yellow Jackets (20-11). Derrick Favors gave Georgia Tech a one-point lead on a putback with three seconds left, but the unheralded Tucker nailed a 3-pointer from the left corner as time ran out for a 76-74 victory.
“You need some breaks at times during the year,” Maryland coach Gary Williams said. “We got one there.”
After that fortunate shot, Williams’ club won each of its five remaining regular-season games by single digits. Among the highlights were a 104-100 double-overtime victory at Virginia Tech on Feb. 27 and a 79-72 win over co-champion Duke to open March.
Greivis Vasquez scored a career-high 41 points in the win over Virginia Tech en route to winning ACC player of the year.
The senior finished second in the conference with 19.6 points per game, and ranked first with 6.3 assists per contest. In the win over Georgia Tech, he became the first ACC player with at least 2,000 points, 700 assists and 600 rebounds.
Now with 2,112 career points, Vasquez trails only Len Bias (2,149) and Juan Dixon (2,269) on the school’s career list. With a pair of lengthy tournament runs, he may have a chance to catch both.
“I’m happy, but I’m not satisfied,” Vasquez said. “This weekend is huge. I don’t want people to think, ‘Oh, you’ve done everything.’ I haven’t done everything I’ve wanted to do. I want to win championships.”
Vasquez finished with 18 points against the Yellow Jackets last month. Favors established career highs for points (21) and rebounds (18) for Georgia Tech.
The ACC’s freshman of the year led the way again in a 62-58 win over North Carolina in Thursday night’s first round. He had 18 points, nine rebounds and five blocks, including one on a potential tying shot with 2:20 remaining.
“I just took it upon myself for the team not to lose,” Favors said.
Georgia Tech trailed by as many as 13 points in the first half before rallying to win its third straight conference tournament opener.
“We just want to get settled down after this game,” coach Paul Hewitt said. “This is an important game for us. When we get back to the hotel, we will start thinking and talking about Maryland.”
The Yellow Jackets, who haven’t won the ACC title since 1993, might need to break that drought to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time in three years.
With a win Friday, the Terps would reach the conference semifinals for the second straight year. They beat North Carolina State and Wake Forest before falling to Duke in 2009.
Maryland leads the all-time series 37-33 and is searching for its third straight ACC tournament win over Georgia Tech. The Terps beat the Yellow Jackets in 1998 and 2006.