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Down five points midway through the first half against George Mason University, Mark Turgeon called a timeout. The University of Maryland men’s basketball coach needed to rally his players, and in the process accidentally broke his clipboard in a particularly animated moment.
Around the same time, the 14,499 fans at Xfinity Center screamed in excitement. “Man,” Turgeon thought to himself, “they like me breaking the clipboard.”
But the majority of fans weren’t paying attention to Turgeon or his players. Instead, they were giving their cheers to graduate student Charlie Gaines, who was running around the court with unrestrained joy.
Gaines, a Maryland graduate student and longtime Terps basketball fan, had just drained a half-court shot to win $500.
“I’ve been coming to Maryland games since I can remember,” Gaines tells City Paper. “My mom used to bring me when I was a baby. I mean, forever … I always just wanted the opportunity to hit this shot, and I buried it, so I’m fired up.”
Gaines, who is 26 and was born and raised in Bel Air, Maryland, arrived an hour early to the 7 p.m. tipoff game so he could get a seat right up on the railing. When he arrived, he saw a woman wearing a red University of Maryland polo holding a piece of paper.
“For some reason, I walked over to her and said, ‘Hey, how do I be the guy that shoots the half-court shot?’” Gaines recalls.
The staff member replied that she was just about to ask the fan next to Gaines.
“I looked at that lady and said, ‘Please let me do this.’ I said, “I swear to god I won’t let you down,’” he says.
The fan agreed and during a timeout with about eight minutes left in the first half, the team summoned Gaines to the center of the court. Gaines would have 30 seconds to make a layup, free throw, three-pointer, and half-court shot. He told his friends and girlfriend beforehand that if he hit the free throw on his first attempt, he would win.
“I have two younger brothers … and all three of us, we grew up playing basketball,” Gaines says. “Going on court, just doing shoot around, one-on-one, and we always used to practice the layup, the free throw, three-pointer, half-court shot in under 30 seconds. We’ve probably done that for 10 years.”
Gaines, who played baseball at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, easily scored the layup and free throw but missed his first three-point attempt, something that still irks him.
“Because that’s my bread and butter,” he says.
He made it on his second attempt, and had about 15 seconds remaining to sink the half-court shot. Instead of heaving up the shot, Gaines paused and raised his arms to pump up the crowd.
“I’ve watched this so many times,” he explains. “People who rush it and they do two shots, it never happens.”
Gaines took one step and flicked his wrist. Bucket.
“It was a huge blur,” he says of the following moments.
In the aftermath, fans came up to congratulate Gaines. His friends teased him about the attention. He also received a signed Maryland basketball and at first thought he had won $500 worth of Sardi’s Chicken. (A Maryland Athletics communications staff member later clarified that Gaines himself won $500 and his section would get free Sardi’s Chicken.)
The Maryland men’s basketball Twitter account posted the video of his half-court shot and multiple photos of Gaines wearing his No. 12 jersey, which he bought because Terrell Stoglin is one of his favorite players.
Gaines high-fived the Maryland players after the Terps’ 86-63 win with a smile plastered on his face. He took time answering questions from reporters and soaked in the moment for as long as he could.
Asked via text message what he plans to do with the money, Gaines laughs. It’ll be going toward his student debt.