BLACKSBURG, Va. -- This was Garfield Smith's kind of place. An unfriendly arena in the middle of nowhere. The kind of place Smith learned about on the junior-college road to the University of Maryland.
Maybe that can explain what he did here last night. With the Terrapins struggling offensively, Cedric Lewis in foul trouble and Virginia Tech threatening to erase Maryland's 14-point lead, Smith took over.
On a variety of spins in the lane, short jumpers and one sneaky layup, Smith scored a career-high 24 points -- 18 in the second half -- to lead the Terps to an 82-67 victory over the Hokies before a rowdy crowd of 6,472 at Cassell Coliseum.
"I figured that when Cedric picked up his fourth foul, I'd have to do a lot more inside," said Smith, who spent the last two years at Coffeyville (Kan.) Junior College. "My shot was falling, so I kept going to the basket."
One of Smith's forays to the hoop might have broken the Hokies' comeback, not to mention their spirit. After Virginia Tech (10-14) had cut Maryland's 44-30 lead to 58-54, Smith sneaked inside on an inbounds play for an easy layup. It started an 11-0 run for the Terps.
"That was a big play for them, and for us," said Virginia Tech coach Frankie Allen. "And everything came unglued for us."
Not that Hokies were so together before Smith's layup. They made 17 of their 27 turnovers in the first half, helping Maryland take a 38-28 lead. But that basket helped silence the crowd and lift the Terps.
The victory assured a non-losing season for Maryland (14-11), which closes its home schedule Saturday against Wake Forest before playing its final two Atlantic Coast Conference games on the road.
Shortly after Terps coach Gary Williams entered the dressing room, a loud cheer could be heard from behind the closed door. Williams kidded later that he told the players they had today off, but they were cheering their season of over-achievement.
"Everyone wanted to finish .500, but we've still got three games left," said Smith, who has come on strong the second half of the season, scoring in double figures eight of the past 10 games. "Hopefully, we can win 17."
"I just refused to believe anything bad about this team," said Williams, whose team was picked by many to finish the season with single-digit victories. "I started the season with a completely open mind. They gave themselves a chance to be good. We weren't a very good basketball team in December."
Or so it appeared when Walt Williams was sidelined with a fractured left fibula suffered Jan. 12 against Duke. But since Williams was hurt, the Terps have a winning record (6-5) and have won twice in the ACC and twice on the road, at South Florida and here.
"I was kind of skeptical, when Walt got hurt, but once we showed we could win on the road, I knew we were capable of this," said junior forward Vince Broadnax, who gave another solid performance last night, finishing with 16 points and eight rebounds.
The 11-0 run -- seven by Smith -- helped put away the Hokies. His three-point play with 6 minutes, 30 seconds to play, coming on an eight-foot shot that arched high in the air before falling straight through the basket, gave the Terps a 69-54 lead.
"I told Garfield after he got a shot blocked earlier in the game that he had to be more aggressive," said Gary Williams. "He's had some big games for us. This is his first year in Division I and he's laying the groundwork for next year."
So is Maryland.
NOTES: Lewis blocked three shots against the Hokies, raising his school-record single-season total to 132. Lewis is on line to break Ralph Sampson's Atlantic Coast Conference record of 4.6 blocked shots per game, regardless if he blocks another shot the rest of the year. . . . Evers Burns, a sophomore forward from Woodlawn, had 13 points, seven rebounds and three steals off the bench.