WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- The University of Maryland basketball team hadn't won many Atlantic Coast Conference road games in its first four seasons under Gary Williams. Six, to be exact. One last year. Never more than two in the same season.
And certainly the Terrapins hadn't survived many, at home or away, like the one they played yesterday against Wake Forest at the Lawrence Joel Coliseum. With 25 percent shooting in the first half. With a six-point deficit and less than seven minutes remaining.
"I can't remember any," said Williams.
Using its full-court press to wear down Wake Forest in the second half, and a late run of 12 straight points to take control of the cold-shooting Demon Deacons, the Terrapins showed more substance than style during a 61-58 victory before 12,362.
On an afternoon when freshman sensation Joe Smith literally and statistically came crashing back to reality, Maryland continued to be the most surprising team in the ACC and, by early this week, possibly one of the Top 25 ranked teams in the country.
"Wake did a good job of controlling tempo in the first half," said Williams, whose team cut a 20-11 deficit to 22-21 with the help of some horrific shooting from the Demon Deacons. "But our team has been resilient all year, and I hope that continues. We've been able to show the ability to come back and win."
The victory was the third overall on the road and second straight ACC road win this season for Maryland (10-3, 3-1). It gave the Terps their best start ever in the league under Williams and their best start in the ACC in 10 years. It also gave them a share of first place with North Carolina, Duke and Virginia.
"I'm disappointed in the loss, but we lost to a good team," said Wake Forest coach Dave Odom. "They are the most improved team in the conference. Gary Williams deserves credit, as do the Maryland players. They complement each other well and they were well-conditioned. They are in for a good season."
Wake Forest -- as well as second-ranked Duke, which lost to the Demon Deacons, 69-68, Thursday night in Durham -- contributed to Maryland's victory. After building a 50-44 lead with 6:56 to go, and still ahead 20 seconds later 52-47, Wake Forest (11-4, 2-1) rTC didn't score again until there were 5.2 seconds left.
"I think they got tired, after the game Thursday night and then having to run the floor in the second half," said Williams. "We took a gamble by going to the press, because they shoot well in transition. But they started missing their shots."
In a stretch of nine possessions, the Demon Deacons missed six straight shots, committed a couple of turnovers and missed a pair of free throws. The Terrapins scored on nine of their last 11 possessions, making seven of eight free throws in the final 28.4 seconds.
"We started getting the ball inside and we continued to play good defense," said sophomore point guard Duane Simpkins, whose suffocating defense led to a 6-for-15 performance by Randolph Childress, the ACC's leading scorer. "And then Joe starting getting his shots."
Said Williams: "Everybody was asking what was wrong with Joe today. There was nothing wrong. He made the plays when it counted -- at the end."
Smith, outplayed by Wake Forest freshman Tim Duncan for the first half, started finding his range early in the second half. But his momentum was temporarily halted when the 6-10 center hit the floor hard after getting tangled up in midair with Wake Forest's Trelonie Owens while going up for a lob pass with 13:04 remaining.
While Smith only had the wind knocked out of him and left the game for less than two minutes, the Demon Deacons had a more serious problem: foul trouble on Duncan, who after scoring 14 points in the first 25 minutes picked up his fourth personal with 14:10 to go. The 6-10 center from the Bahamas was never a
factor after coming back with a little less than eight minutes to go.
"He's pretty quick," Smith said of Duncan, who also had seven rebounds and five blocked shots. "It was kind of different playing against him than it was going against the stronger guys like [Carolina's Eric] Montross. But once he got in foul trouble, he couldn't be as aggressive as he was early in the game and I tried to take advantage of that."
Smith finished with 17 points, 12 rebounds and four steals, but the biggest play he made down the stretch came when he took a charge on Childress as the junior guard drove to the basket with 21 seconds left and Maryland holding onto a 56-52 lead.
"We were up four and Coach told me he might be going to the basket," said Smith, who had been averaging more than 25 points and 14 rebounds in his first three ACC games. "I saw him get an opening and I got in front of him."
Said Childress, who wound up leaving the game with a mild concussion and two stitches in the chin, "I don't remember what happened. It was a situation where you didn't think they'd try to foul. It was give-and-take."