COLLEGE PARK -- How's this for a script: Maryland is down 10 points to Wake Forest early in the second half, four when Walt Williams makes his first appearance after missing six weeks with a broken leg. Coming in to a prolonged standing ovation, the junior point guard hits his first shot, an over-the-head layup to tie the score.
Not bad, but there's more: Williams makes two more acrobatic shots, including a crucial three-pointer, bringing down the house and the Deamon Deacons. As Cole Field House rocks, the Terrapins roll to an 86-78 victory, cooling off the Atlantic Coast Conference's hottest team and clinching a winning record.
Sound a little far-fetched? Certainly, but what happened to Maryland (15-11, 4-8) yesterday is only the latest happy twist in this hard-to-believe season. The Terps might not be going anywhere because of sanctions by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, but they have achieved far more than anyone could have predicted.
"It's a big thrill for me personally," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, a strong candidate for ACC Coach of the Year. "I think a lot of this team. Sometimes we don't know where the points are going to come from, but we seem to be able to get them. It takes a lot of heart to do what they've done. I've never had a team work harder."
The return of Walt Williams, who came in with 13 minutes, 23 seconds remaining and Maryland behind, 60-56, certainly fueled the emotion for the Terps and a crowd of 12,739. And his seven points in 11 minutes certainly helped overcome Wake Forest (15-9, 6-6). But Williams didn't win the game single-handedly, or even on one leg.
There were 28 points from senior guard Matt Roe, including 12 of 12 from the free-throw line. There was senior center Cedric Lewis, who recovered from a slugSee MARYLAND, 10D, Col. 4MARYLAND, from 1Egish first half to finish with 12 points, 10 rebounds and four blocked shots in his final home game. There was junior forward Vince Broadnax, who put a lid on hot-shooting freshman Randolph Childress down the stretch while scoring 14 points and pulling down nine rebounds.
"You can't take away the jobs Matt, Cedric and Eric [Kjome, the team's other senior] did today," said Gary Williams. "Cedric is Cedric, and Eric played a nice game. It was tough for Matt to come back and stick those shots like he did after the [2-for-12] night he had at Virginia Tech."
The game came down to a halftime conversation between Gary Williams and Walt Williams. After watching his injured star limp through practice Thursday, Gary Williams said he wouldn't use him against the Demon Deacons. But with the Terps trailing, 48-40, Walt Williams went to his coach and asked if he could play.
"I felt that he had earned the right to make that call," said Gary Williams, adding that Walt Williams had received medical clearance to play 10 days ago. "It was just a matter of when Walt felt he was ready to play. He was not 100 percent, but it is hard for a competitor to sit on the bench."
Said Walt Williams: "He wanted to make sure I wasn't doing it to just get into a game. I explained that my leg was feeling better. I'm sure he has confidence in my judgment."
It is the kind of confidence Maryland has in Walt Williams. For the first 15 games this season, until suffering a fractured left fibula against Duke Jan. 12, he had led the team in scoring and assists. To their credit, the Terps had won six of 11 games in his absence.
Though he limped noticeably yesterday and had trouble defensively, Williams still had the same flair for the spectacular. He hit a fadeaway jumper off one leg in the lane for a 69-66 lead. After the Demon Deacons missed two shots on their next possession, he led the fast break and fed Broadnax, who was fouled and extended Maryland's lead to four.
"It felt great to be out there," said Williams. "My emotions were what they always are. I never let myself get too down or too high."
The lift Williams gave Maryland yesterday was obvious, not only to his coach and teammates. Wake Forest coach Dave Odom, whose team had come in with five victories in its past six games, complimented his counterpart for a deft touch on when to use Walt Williams.
"Gary picked exactly the right time to put him in," said Odom. "I was anybody's game, and they had made it close. He helped put them over the top."
It certainly didn't hurt Maryland's chances when freshman forward Rodney Rogers fouled out with 4:10 remaining and Lewis about to put the Terps ahead for good, 73-72. Or that guards Robert Siler (18 points) and Childress (17 points) started missing their three-point shots.
But the game was over when Williams, with 1:36 left in the gam and four ticks remaining on the 45-second clock, hit an off-balance, fadeaway three-pointer to give Maryland an 80-74 lead. The Terps never looked back, only ahead to the last two games of the season. They finish on the road Wednesday at North Carolina State and Saturday at Virginia.
"Nobody thought we could have a winning season, but we knew we could do it," said sophomore point guard Kevin McLinton, who filled in admirably for Williams. "We've won 15 games, but we want to win 17. We know it's going to be tough, but the way we're playing now, we feel we could do anything."
After yesterday, it's difficult to disagree.