EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Maryland basketball team demonstrated during its first three games this season that execution and effort combine to make a dangerous combination.
Last night, the Terrapins couldn't find the basket for much of their game against Providence in the ACC-Big East Challenge at Brendan Byrne Arena. But after playing its worst game this year, Maryland found out it still could win.
With help from the Friars, who had several chances to overtake the Terps in the second half, Maryland won for the fourth straight time this season, 76-66. The victory was its first in three tries in this series, and gave Maryland its best start in 10 years.
"I'm really proud of our team, we weren't real smooth, and we were in serious foul trouble in the second half, but we did what we had to do to win," said Maryland coach Gary Williams.
What Maryland did was make enough shots and enough free throws down the stretch to hold off one final run by Providence (2-4). After leading by as many as 11 points early in the first, by four at halftime, and by eight three times early in the second half, the Terps found themselves ahead by only three, 65-62, with a little more than three minutes to go.
With senior forward Garfield Smith having fouled out, and with junior centers Evers Burns and Chris Kerwin just one foul away, Maryland never lost control. As the Friars kept misfiring three-point shots or turning the ball over, the Terps secured the victory by making nine of their last 11 free throws in the final 2:27.
"I don't think this proves anything to us, because we know we're a good team," said senior guard Walt Williams, who made five of six free throws down the stretch. "But it might show that you don't have to play a perfect game to win."
Maryland was far from perfect, missing 46 of 70 shots from the field, 11 of 12 three-pointers and 15 of 42 free throws, while committing 18 turnovers. But the Terps outrebounded the taller and more gifted Friars, 58-49.
As Walt Williams said succinctly, after missing 12 of 18 shots, "Providence did a pretty good job on defense. It was hard to score on them."
It wasn't easy to score on Maryland, either. Providence was 21 of 66 from the field, and turned the ball over 25 times. Three straight turnovers came after the Friars cut their deficit to three.
"They're a pretty good team," said Providence sophomore Rob Phelps, who shot six of 17 from the field and led the Friars with 20 points. "They played hard. They're a very poised team. They know their roles and they don't try to do too much."
The Terps got solid efforts from the usual group. Aside from Williams (team-high 20 points, eight rebounds, six assists and four steals), junior guard Kevin McLinton finished with 16 points, six rebounds and five assists. Burns had 13 points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots. But they also got a big game from their biggest player.
Kerwin, the 6-10, 210-pound transfer from Old Dominion, played his best game in a Maryland uniform. Though he finished with only four points and six rebounds, his 11-minute contribution was immeasurable.
"We were happy to see Chris not limping," Gary Williams joked about the oft-injured Kerwin. "Chris has worked really hard in practice, and it showed tonight."
But as awkward as the gangly Kerwin often looks, he didn't stick out last night. It was a game that might set back college basketball artistry a little -- say 30 or 40 years. McLinton described Maryland's offense in a word.
'Ugh," he said.
It didn't matter to Gary Williams.
"It'll look beautiful in the box scores tomorrow," he said.
As beautiful as 4-0.