NEW YORK -- The University of Maryland basketball team came to this year's ECAC Holiday Festival at Madison Square Garden looking for both respect and some national recognition. Last night, the underexposed and undaunted Terrapins found both.
Led by junior guard Walt Williams and by a superb defense, Maryland shocked 12th-ranked South Carolina, 78-69, to win the 39th annual Christmas tournament.
Williams finished with 26 points and was named tournament Most Valuable Player.
The victory was the fourth straight for Maryland (6-3) and came against a team that had won eight straight games and had beaten North Carolina earlier this season.
It also came at a good time for the Terps, who open their Atlantic Coast Conference season Wednesday night at Wake Forest.
The championship marked the second in the Holiday Festival in two tries for Maryland coach Gary Williams, whose Ohio State team beat St. John's for the title two years ago.
After South Carolina closed to 63-62 with 6 minutes, 24 seconds left, the Terps ran off 11 straight points in a 15-2 run that put away the game.
Williams took over the game with seven points in a two-minute stretch in the second half.
After leading by 11 early in the second half, Maryland saw South Carolina climb back into the game. The Gamecocks twice got within three, the second time on a power layup by backup center Chris Leso.
Maryland shot 18 of 33 from the field in the first half, and South Carolina was 15 of 32. Just as important for Maryland was that it committed only six turnovers against South Carolina's aggressive, man-to-man defense.