RALEIGH, N.C. -- Mediocrity doesn't necessarily make for boring basketball, as Maryland and North Carolina State proved last night at rowdy Reynolds Coliseum.
In a game of streaks between two struggling teams, the Wolfpack struck last. N.C. State made enough three-point shots early to overcome a 15-point deficit and enough free throws down the stretch to hold on for a 94-88 victory.
It was the fifth straight loss for the Terrapins and the third without a victory in the Atlantic Coast Conference this season for Maryland (7-6, 0-3). As strange as it may seem, the defeat was both disheartening and encourging.
"I thought it was a great basketball game between two teams that have had their problems the last two years," said Maryland coach Gary Williams. "I was pleased with our effort. We're hanging tough. It would have been nice to get it, but they made some big plays at the end."
The difference was N.C. State's three-point shooting. After making only two of its first 11, the Wolfpack saw an 11-2 lead turn into a 38-23 deficit with a little over six minutes left in the first half. But four straight three-pointers and six of seven brought N.C. State (7-5, 1-1) back to tie the game, 47-47.
Maryland led, 49-47, at halftime, and stretched its lead to 56-47 early in the second half. But, again, the Wolfpack's three-point shooting carried it to a 79-72 lead with a little less than six minutes to play. N.C. State finished the game 13 of 30 from three-point range, and the Terps were four of 15.
"They were really shooting the ball well," said Maryland guard Kevin McLinton. "Threes are worth more than twos."
Still, the Terps had their chances. After tying the game on three occasions in the final minutes, the last time at 83-83 on a layup by McLinton with a little more than two minutes left, Maryland watched as N.C. State took control.
The Wolfpack ran off the next five points, all on free throws, as Maryland missed three straight shots. Though there were some shaky moments at the free-throw line, the Wolfpack made 11 of its last 15 foul shots to hold on. A pair of free throws by freshman guard Curtis Marshall sealed the victory with 8.8 seconds left.
"It came down to the final couple of minutes, and they made some big shots," said Maryland guard Walt Williams, who had scored a game-high 30 before missing a three-point try and having a drive blocked by Kevin Thompson down the stretch. "As a result, they pulled it out."
The defeat was discouraging, but Maryland's performance wasn't. After shooting 40 percent or less in their past three games, the Terps improved to 50 percent (35 of 70) last night. Williams was 12 of 22 and junior Evers Burns was 11 of 16, tying his career high of 22 points. McLinton, who played point guard most of the night, had 19 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.
Maryland also got help from some unexpected sources. Sophomore guard Mike Thibeault, who had played sparingly this season, came off the bench to spark the team's early comeback with three steals and a few heady passes. Junior center Chris Kerwin, who could wind up in the starting lineup shortly, had four points, six rebounds and three blocked shots in 25 minutes.
"I thought Thibeault did a very good job," said Gary Williams, whose team plays at North Carolina tomorrow night. "Our plan was to put Vince Broadnax on Tom Gugliotta, but, as it was, Vince had the flu and he needed to come out. Mike is a very good defensive player. After 10 minutes, Walt went on Gugliotta, and I thought he did a pretty good job. I think you saw two great players out there."
Gugliotta finished with 26 points, nine rebounds and seven assists (also five turnovers), but for one of the rare games this season, he had plenty of help. Junior center Thompson had 18 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks, and sophomore guard Migden Bakali had 17 points, 15 of them on five of eight from three-point range.
"Obviously, we needed this game really bad tonight," said N.C. State coach Les Robinson. "We've been in the same boat as Maryland the last couple of years, and this was a very important ACC win. It was a very strange game. We shoot the three more than anybody. We live by it, and we die by it."
NOTES: Senior G Matthew Downing did not play last night because of a sprained ankle. . . . F Garfield Smith, who had come into the game nine of 34 shooting in his past two games, was a quiet 0-for-3. . . . Williams' turnover total of 11 against Duke
Wednesday night tied an ACC record.