RALEIGH, N.C. -- In a neatly framed performance at Reynolds Coliseum yesterday, the eighth-ranked Maryland Terrapins and All-American Joe Smith demonstrated why they are both considered among college basketball's elite.
Smith led Maryland to a blazing start that produced an 18-point lead over North Carolina State in the first six minutes, then returned from some second-half foul trouble to steady the Terps and silence the Wolfpack once and for all.
The combination -- which included 26 points, nine rebounds and four blocks by the 6-foot-10 sophomore center -- helped Maryland to a comfortable 84-67 victory, its first in three years here and only the second for coach Gary Williams in six trips onto N.C. State's home court.
It also produced the 300th victory for Williams in his 17-year career as a Division I head coach. Even more significant, it was the third straight Atlantic Coast Conference win for the Terps, their second in three league games on the road, and the eighth for Maryland (14-3, 4-1) in the past nine games overall.
"We had some time to prepare with a week off, and that might have been to our advantage," said Williams, whose team's start is the best at Maryland since the 1979-80 team went 14-2 en route to the ACC regular-season championship. "We were well-rested, but you never know how your team is going to react, if you'll be flat coming out."
If Williams had those kinds of fears, they were quickly allayed. The Terps got off to their best start in an ACC game in recent memory, making their first six shots and scoring on their first 10 possessions to take a crowd-quieting 21-3 lead with an 18-footer by Smith with 14:29 to go in the opening half.
"The game was won in the first five minutes," said Williams.
It was reminiscent of last season's game here, except for what N.C. State center Todd Fuller would call "a reversal of roles." A year ago, Maryland fell behind 39-14 at halftime and, despite making a strong second-half run, couldn't quite catch the Wolfpack in a 79-71 defeat.
"It was a mirror of last year's game," said N.C. State coach Les Robinson, whose Wolfpack came out flat after Wednesday's win at home over Duke.
Just as N.C. State (10-5, 2-3) did to them, the Terps never allowed the Wolfpack to climb completely out of its early hole. Maryland saw its big lead cut in half in less than six minutes, then watched as the Wolfpack whittled it down to five, 32-27, with a little more than three minutes left in the half.
But with some help from its bench, including freshman Rodney Elliott of Baltimore, Maryland stretched its lead back to 11 by halftime.
It got a little tense for the Terps when Smith was whistled for a technical with 15:45 to go in the game for hanging on the rim after a follow dunk. With three fouls at the time and Maryland ahead by 10, it was announced -- incorrectly as things turned out -- that Smith's technical was also a personal.
"I thought it was my fourth," recalled Smith, who was trying to avoid an N.C. State player underneath him. "[Assistant] Coach [Billy] Hahn came over to me during the timeout and said that doesn't count. I was relieved."
Trying to protect Smith, Williams pulled his star with 12:56 left and his team ahead by 11. But when sophomore forward Keith Booth joined Smith on the sideline after picking up his third personal 33 seconds later -- 22 seconds after getting his second -- Williams looked again to his bench.
This time, junior forward Mario Lucas and senior guard Wayne Bristol picked up the scoring slack left by Smith's absence, while Elliott took up the rebounding and passing chores of Booth (12 rebounds, five assists). After a three by N.C. State reserve C. C. Harrison cut Maryland's lead to eight, 53-45, Lucas led the Terps on a 10-4 run.
"I've been struggling with my outside shot, so I've been trying to go more inside," said Lucas, who wound up with eight second-half points. "I'm trying to not think about it [his outside shooting slump]. This feels good as long as we're winning."
Smith made sure of that part. By the time he returned after an unusually long stretch of more than five minutes on the bench, the Wolfpack was again within eight, 65-57. But Smith scored three straight times and the Terps scored on six straight possessions.
Maryland made its last five shots from the field (30 of 51 overall for 59 percent, including 17 of 24 in the second half) and its last eight tries from the foul line (21 of 27 overall). Continuing his hot shooting, Smith was 10 of 12 overall from the field, six of six from the line.
"I guess they don't have confidence in my outside shooting, so I'm going to have to prove it," said Smith, who hit three shots from the foul line and beyond, just as he did recently against both Wake Forest and Florida State. "I have a lot of confidence in it. They didn't challenge me out there, waiting for me to miss. Fortunately that didn't happen."