March 21, 2013
By Anna Labonte, Maryland Athletics Media Relations Student Assistant
COLLEGE PARK, Md. - With five seconds left in the game, Aaron Coombs made two free throws and UNC Wilmington took the lead. As the teams went into timeout, it seemed inevitable that the reigning national champion Maryland was about to lose in the first round of the 2003 NCAA Tournament.
Maryland players knew the plan: get Steve Blake the ball. But UNC Wilmington players swarmed Blake, and senior Drew Nicholas ended up taking the inbounds pass. Nicholas ran the length of the court, and pushed to the perimeter by defenders, took a chance at a 3-point shot with less than a second left.
"My initial thought was to try and get as close to the basket as possible and try to get a good shot off," said Nicholas. "Obviously I knew there was only five seconds, so I didn't have much time. I can kind of replay it in my mind, and I knew there was somebody on me. I was just going, and thankfully the rest is history."
The ball sailed through the net just before the buzzer, and UNC Wilmington players were left standing in disbelief. Referees went to check the shot while the Maryland bench celebrated. Instead of joining his teammates, Nicholas ran for the locker room.
"I was literally trying to get back to the tunnel, trying to get back to our locker room because I didn't want the refs saying the basket didn't count or anything like that," said Nicholas. "I was going off of sheer emotion. It's one of those things where you don't even know what you're doing; you're just going straight off reaction."
But the shot was good, and 10 years later, Nicholas still has one of the best NCAA Tournament buzzer beaters under his belt. A decade after one of the greatest moments in Maryland history, Nicholas still vividly remembers the emotion of the game.
"It still gives me chills. It's still kind of weird," said Nicholas. "You look at it and you don't think it's yourself, but I still have the memory. I can basically place myself on the court as we were coming back from timeout. It's surreal. It doesn't feel that long ago in my eyes."
After the Terps ended their run in the Sweet 16, Nicholas played professionally in Europe, winning two Euroleague Championships. He is now back in the United States, trying out a career in sports broadcasting.
Nicholas still enjoys reliving the buzzer beater with Terp fans.
"The best part about all of this is hearing everybody's stories about where they were, what everybody was doing," said Nicholas. "I've heard some crazy stories, with someone saying they were at their parents' house, they jumped up and knocked over the living room table and broke it. A whole bunch of bar stories. It's just excellent because every time someone recognizes me for it, I get to relive the moment a little bit. It's one of those things that's going to stay with me for the rest of my life."