COLLEGE PARK -- After three straight defeats on the road, the University of Maryland basketball team was in need of a victory. And, after what happened Saturday in Jacksonville, Fla., Cedric Lewis was in need of a confidence boost.
Both got what they wanted last night.
Thank-you notes can be forwarded to the University of California-Irvine.
Struggling to put away the run-and-gun-and-lots-of-fun Anteaters, Lewis lifted the Terps out of a mess of a game and a heap of trouble. The senior center put together a career night and helped Maryland to a 93-79 victory before 7,263 at Cole Field House.
Lewis scored 21 points, including a hard-to-believe nine of 10 from the free-throw line, blocked eight shots and pulled down 14 rebounds. It was a career-high in the first two categories and tied a career-best for boards. Walt Williams also scored 21 for Maryland (3-3).
"It was great to see him on the free-throw line going 9-for-10," Williams said of Lewis, a 46 percent free-throw shooter in his first three years at Maryland who was seven of 15 this season going into the game. "Because what he did was he made up for some guys who didn't shoot particularly good free throws. That is what you really need to pick us up."
Of course, it didn't come easy for the Terps, who blew second-half leads in all their recent defeats. After two free throws by Lewis gave Maryland a 13-point lead with a little under nine minutes left, Cal-Irvine (3-4) twice cut its deficit to four, the second time at 81-77 with 2 minutes, 23 seconds remaining.
But sophomore guard Kevin McLinton scored on a critical three-point play 39 seconds later, and the Anteaters never threatened again. After starting out nine of 15 from three-point range, Cal-Irvine cooled off considerably, missing 14 of its last 16.
"We made too many turnovers in the first half and missed too many shots in the second half," said Cal-Irvine coach Bill Mulligan, whose team had been scoring close to 96 points and giving up nearly 100 this season. "I thought Lewis and Williams played well."
The victory helped restore some confidence for the Terps, who were coming off a 71-70 defeat at Jacksonville in which they were out-rebounded, 44-24.
Aside from coach Gary Williams, there seemed to be no one more upset about the upset loss than Lewis, who was dominated in the game by Tim Burroughs and allowed his man to score the winning basket on a layup off an inbounds pass with six seconds remaining.
"It really caught me off guard," Lewis said of the play. "I had to put the Jacksonville game behind me and redeem myself tonight."
Lewis played the kind of game that his older brother, Derrick, had during his last two years at Maryland. In fact, the younger Lewis came within two blocked shots of Derrick's specialty: a big man's triple double. Derrick Lewis has the Maryland record ++ with 12 blocks and had five 10-block games.
"I think Cedric has a lot of talent that people don't realize, and he brought it out tonight," said Walt Williams.
Said Lewis: "I knew I had to do a great job on the boards. It just so happened that the offense was there tonight too."
Lewis did a good job of neutralizing Cal-Irvine's leading scorer, .. Ricky Butler. The senior forward, whose style, if not physique, is similar to that of Jacksonville's Burroughs, was held in check until the final minutes and finished with 18 points. Jeff Herdman also scored 18 for the Anteaters.
"His rebounding was very good because he was going against a good player," Gary Williams said. The words come easily after a win.
The real challenge will be trying to hold fast to them.