Fifteen Years Later, Maryland’s Final ACC Tournament Victory Still Special

With less than a minute remaining in overtime, Maryland inbounded the ball against Duke’s full-court press clinging to a three-point lead in the 2004 ACC tournament final.

Terps reserve forward Mike Grinnon broke free and caught the inbounds pass before being fouled. Grinnon arrived at the foul line to shoot a one-and-one before anyone else.

“I literally sprinted to the foul line,” he said. “I wanted to give myself the most time possible at the line. Duke guard Chris Duhon walked by. Duhon told me, ‘Good luck kid, you never play, no way you’re hitting these shots.'”

Grinnon had played sparingly that season. He’d waited for a chance to redeem himself after a costly traveling violation that nearly jeopardized the Terps’ victory against top-ranked Florida earlier in the season.

He calmly sank both free throws to help the Terps beat the Blue Devils, 95-87, for Maryland’s first ACC tournament win since 1984.

“Maryland won the ACC tournament three times,” longtime Terps radio play-by-play man Johnny Holliday said. “In 1958, they beat North Carolina and Nick Davis was MVP. In 1984, Len Bias was MVP and in 2004, John Gilchrist put the team on his back and carried them to victory. It was a tremendous individual performance. He scored 30 against NC State and 26 against Duke.”

Gilchrist, then a sophomore guard, tied the score with a three-point play late in regulation. He averaged 24 points per game during the Terps’ three-game run.

Maryland entered the conference tournament as the No. 6 seed and on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament. The Terps defeated three nationally ranked teams — Wake Forest, NC State and Duke to win the title — in Greensboro, N.C.

“Winning an ACC tournament in the state of North Carolina was always difficult if your school was from outside the state,” former Maryland coach Gary Williams said. “If you won the first game, your second game was usually against a Carolina school that was nationally ranked on their home court in terms of fans in the stands. We were a top-10 strength of schedule team that year, so we were not intimated by anyone.”

Maryland defeated a Chris Paul-led Wake Forest team by one point and came back from a 20-point deficit to defeat NC State. Against Duke, Maryland trailed by as many as 12 in the second half and by 10 with less than three minutes to play in regulation.

“We defeated a Duke team with four future NBA players,” Williams said. “Gilchrist, Jamar Smith, Nik Caner-Medley, Mike Grinnon were keys to the win. Gilchrist deservedly won the MVP.”

Gilchrist remembers a team trying to make a late-season run to make the NCAA Tournament.

“We just rolled the dice,” said Gilchrist, now a special education teacher and high school basketball coach in Virginia Beach, Va. “We didn’t have anything to lose. We needed to solidify a tournament berth. We played like VCU under Shaka Smart. We pressed and could come back in games if we needed to. Coach Williams recruited guys with a chip on their shoulders. He always had a great game plan for Duke. We were their kryptonite. We made them uncomfortable.”

Gilchrist still receives messages from fans sharing their memories of that moment.

“It’s really cool,” said Gilchrist. “I love the Maryland community. I was a kid, I put everything I had into basketball. I never felt as nervous as a player as I do now as a fan.”

Gilchrist intently follows the Terrapin basketball team.

“They are going to be a tough out,” he said. “I like the backcourt, especially with [Anthony Cowan], and Bruno [Fernando] is a man. It’s all about having the opportunity.”

The only Maryland basketball player to win a national championship and the ACC tournament, Grinnon owes his success in life to that moment on the charity stripe.

“That game changed my life,” said Grinnon, now the managing partner of a financial firm. “I stayed ready and believed that anything was possible. Coach Williams kept me engaged. He’s the ultimate competitor. We knew we had to go deep in the tournament, and I knew I might get a chance with the team playing three days in a row. That game was the biggest moment of my life.”

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Issue 252: March 2019