WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- For most of the first half against Wake Forest last night, Walt Williams battled his cold, Demon Deacons defender Anthony Tucker and frustration, and not necessarily in that order.
Williams hit two of his seven first-half attempts, for just four points, and picked up three fouls in about three minutes.
But, with seven NBA scouts watching him and a load of expectation on top of him, Williams made it simple, scoring 16 points in the second half and leading the Terps to a 77-66 win over the Demon Deacons before 11,295 at the Lawrence Joel Memorial Coliseum.
"I felt it [the game] was going to come to me," said Williams, who had a team-high eight rebounds to go with 20 points.
"My shots just weren't falling in the first half. I took a couple of tough shots in the first half, and I told myself I wouldn't take any tough shots in the second half."
The 6-8 senior from Temple Hills made that pledge hold up at the beginning of the second half, when the Terps (13-13, 5-10 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) who trailed 32-30 at the half, broke out on an 8-2 run to start the half.
Williams hit a 15-footer, a drive in the lane and a beautiful twisting drive off a steal to spark the run.
"As for Walt, in the second half, I think he just made up his mind he was going to score," Maryland coach Gary Williams said.
"That's just typical Walt Williams for you," Maryland guard Kevin McLinton said. "It was almost like Walt didn't care about the first half. He shows what he can do."
Of course, Walt Williams had help, as McLinton, who had 16 points and Vince Broadnax, who played great defense and had 14 points to boot, made clutch free throws to spur an 18-5 end-of-game run that sealed the win after Wake Forest (17-9, 7-8) had battled back to take a one-point lead with 5:18 left.
Evers Burns had a team-high 21 points and held his own against the rugged Wake interior lineup of Tucker, Chris King and Rodney Rogers.
"They're big, they're strong and they're active," Burns said. "We can't stop them, but we can contain them."
As it was, King had 23 points and Rogers had 16. Tucker, who played exceptional defense on Walt Williams, had eight points.
But except for two meaningless baskets by Rogers and Tucker after the game had been decided, the trio was silent down the stretch.
"Generally, we played a game of frustration. We were never able to find the niche we needed," Wake coach Dave Odom said. "Maryland was much better prepared tonight than we were."
As the Terps complete their second tour through the ACC, they're finding conditions to be much more satisfactory than the first round.
Already, they've avenged losses to North Carolina, North Carolina State, Florida State, and now Wake Forest, not to mention their near-upset of Duke at Durham two weeks ago.
Because they're serving the second year of an NCAA sanction and cannot appear in the postseason past next week's ACC tournament in Charlotte, this current swing, during which they have won five of their last eight, and three straight, may be nothing more than a confidence booster.
But, as they attempt to avoid playing in the elimination game against Clemson next Thursday, this streak begs the question: If this team is playing so well now, why couldn't this have happened earlier?
"We weren't a very good team in December, and it caught us going into the ACC," Gary Williams said. "We lost our first six, and now we've got five wins. I think we're playing pretty well."
McLinton said: "We're better than our record shows. We've had some tough games that we could have won. We've learned in the last couple of weeks how to play under pressure. We just needed some confidence."
And now, they need just a little luck, because if they can beat Virginia in Saturday's season finale, they will take the conference's seventh-seed over North Carolina State.
That may not sound like much, but to finish eighth means facing Clemson in the conference's first game between cellar-dwellers for the "opportunity" to meet top-ranked and top-seeded Duke.
Finishing seventh would send the Terps into Friday's quarterfinals against Florida State, a team Maryland has beaten and barely lost to in overtime.
"When the ACC tournament rolls around, Maryland will be ready," McLinton said.