COLLEGE PARK -- Maryland accomplished a number of feats last night that it hadn't done often lately. The Terrapins didn't rely solely on Walt Williams for offense. They didn't blow a double-digit lead. Nor did they fall apart when Williams got into foul trouble.
One more thing: Maryland won another game in the Atlantic Coast Conference, and pulled itself out of last place.
But it didn't come easily. Missing five straight free throws in the final minute that would have put away North Carolina State, the Terps instead escaped with a 77-74 victory at Cole Field House.
"I thought we've been playing better now than we were back in January," said Maryland coach Gary Williams. "We don't have a lot to show for it. Tonight, we didn't play as well as we have been, but we've toughened up as the year's gone on and we wouldn't let go of it tonight."
Not that the Terps didn't give their coach and a crowd of 7,576 a few moments of anxiety in the final minute. After building a seemingly comfortable 76-70 lead with 62 seconds left, Maryland missed five straight free throws in a span of 22 seconds, and gave the Wolfpack some opportunities before a free throw by Chris Kerwin with 12.4 seconds left sealed the win.
Down the stretch, N.C. State's inexperienced guards failed to find Tom Gugliotta, who had scored most of his game-high 32 points in the first 31 minutes. Gugliotta, who finished 12-for-20 overall and hit seven of 10 three-pointers, took only two shots in the final nine minutes. His last shot was a three-pointer that cut Maryland's lead to 73-68 with 85 seconds to go.
"I don't know why we didn't get him the ball," said N.C. State coach Les Robinson, whose team lost its eighth straight game, the worst streak for a Wolfpack team since 1939-40. "I don't know if it was the defense, or if he ran out of gas. But he had a great night."
Whatever the reason, Maryland (10-11, 3-8) was grateful that Gugliotta disappeared down the stretch for N.C. State (9-14, 3-7). Though Williams didn't, the senior guard scored only nine of his team-high 27 points in the second half. It was the second straight game that Williams was held under 30 after a string of seven in a row.
On this night, Williams had help. Junior forward Evers Burns had 19 points, and Vince Broadnax, who played some tenacious defense by fronting Gugliotta for long stretches in the second half, scored 10 of his 12 points after halftime. Though manhandled by Kevin Thompson, who had 23 points and 12 rebounds for the Wolfpack, Kerwin had his moments and finished with 11 points and eight rebounds.
"I thought the other fellas have been playing very well, and I thought they did a great job tonight," said Williams, who shot 8-for-20 from the field, five of 15 on three-pointers. "Everyone's been working really hard, and it paid off."
For the second straight game, Maryland held together after Williams got into foul trouble. When Williams picked up his fourth personal with 6 minutes and 23 seconds remaining, and the Terps ahead 63-57, the crowd got a little jittery. It was even more nervous after Thompson cut what had been a 14-point lead to three, 63-60.
But Burns made a pair of free throws and after an ill-advised three-point miss by N.C. State freshman forward Victor Newman, Broadnax made one of two free throws. Williams returned and, following a missed drive by Wolfpack freshman forward Mark Davis, hit a scoop for a 68-60 lead. After a three-pointer by Davis, Broadnax hit a big three-point play for Maryland.
"Obviously they came back on us tonight, but we did a pretty good job at the end of the game taking care of the ball, which is what we had to do," said Gary Williams, whose team won for the third time in its last five ACC games. "I thought both Gugliotta and Walt had great games. They really do a lot for their teams."
The matchup of the ACC's two leading scorers overshadowed the matchup of two teams trying to extricate themselves from the bottom of the league. The victory pulled Maryland out of last place for the first time this season, and the Terps are now a half-game behind the seventh-place Wolfpack in that all-important race to get out of the 8-9 game at next month's ACC Tournament.
It also gave Williams a chance to see what the rest of the league had recently witnessed from him: a player with an unconscious shooting stroke. Gugliotta's hot night came after a seven-game string in which he had shot a combined 39 of 111.
"That dude's unbelievable," said Williams.
E9 But thankfully for Maryland, not unbelievable enough.