TAMPA, Fla. -- Now there are two great comebacks in the state of Florida for the University of Maryland to talk about.
The basketball Terrapins rallied from 19 points down last night to defeat the University of South Florida, 87-81, at the Sun Dome Arena. The win ended a three-game losing streak for Maryland (9-7) and was the second straight loss for USF (11-3).
The manner and success of the Terrapins' comeback called to mind the football team's rally from a 31-0 halftime deficit at the University of Miami in 1984.
As in that game, these Terps were patient on offense, unyielding on defense and eventually successful. Garfield Smith scored 15 of his 17 points to spark the rally.
However, it was a full-court press and 10 blocks by Cedric Lewis that really fueled the comeback. Lewis finished the game with 12 blocks, tying a school record held by his brother, Derrick Lewis.
"The blocks, the press, the offensive execution, they all contributed to this, but really it came down to the kids and their desire to win," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "With all that's happened to this program the last few years, it would have been very easy for them to give up, but they didn't."
Williams said he didn't give his team any pep talks when it trailed, 49-32, at halftime. The Terps had shot 46.4 percent in that half, but a slow start and poor ball-handling created the problems that had them trailing by as many as 19 before finishing the half down 17.
"We should have never been in that predicament in the first place, and we knew it," Smith said.
"We decided to chew each other out rather than have Coach do it because we were the ones at fault," Lewis said. "I think that actually helped. It's good to hear criticism from your peers. It makes you want to work harder."
The comeback started on the first play of the second half, when Kevin McLinton made a steal off the press and converted a short jumper.
The Terps proceeded to score 10 of the first 14 points in the half and get the deficit down to 53-42 with 16 minutes left in the game.
From there, it was a small spurt here, a quick run there and great defense from Lewis all around.
South Florida had hit 54.3 percent in the first half, mostly on jumpers by guards Radenko Dobras and Marvin Taylor. Dobras had 22 of his 31 points in the first 20 minutes and Taylor scored 11 of his 17.
However, the jumpers quit falling, and when the Bulls tried to take it inside, they found Lewis blocking their shots.
The Terps' second-half performance was remarkably different from a lethargic effort the first 20 minutes. They missed their first five shots, were down seven points by the time they made a field goal and couldn't do anything against the Bulls' man-to-man defense.
Lewis and the Terps' other inside players were getting the ball on the block, but it led to turnovers instead of points. Each time they put it on the floor, USF defenders swarmed them and caused the turnovers. Lewis had five in the half and the team committed 13.
Dobras and Taylor had a field day with all those extra opportunities. Taylor pushed the ball upcourt quickly and found jump shots at the free-throw line easy to come by. When the Terps defended him, Dobras was the open man.
The junior from Yugoslavia, 6 feet 7, hit a pair of three-pointers and several running jumpers while scoring 22 points in the half. He was eight of 11 from the field and didn't miss in four free-throw attempts.
The only thing that kept the Terrapins anywhere close was good shooting when they didn't turn it over. They recovered from the zero-for-five start to hit 13 of their next 23 shots.