COLLEGE PARK -- In terms of atmosphere, this wasn't North Carolina or Duke or even Virginia. In terms of aesthetics, it was more like painting a house than painting a masterpiece.
In other words, it had to be done.
There were a few blotches during yesterday's game at sold-out Cole Field House against Florida State, but eighth-ranked Maryland cleaned them up late in the first half and then again down the stretch.
The result was a not-so-pretty-yet-efficient 80-65 win for the Terrapins, their eighth in the past nine games. It gave Maryland (19-4, 9-2) temporary possession of first place in the Atlantic Coast Conference over the top-ranked Tar Heels, who play host to Georgia Tech today.
"Since I've been here we've always been the team that had to get ready to try and upset the other team, so now we're looking at it from a different perspective," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, who has now won more games this season than in any of his first five with the Terps. "Our guys did a pretty good job getting ready to play. I'm not sure too many teams could have done a better job under the circumstances."
The Terps played well when they needed to, with a 9-0 run giving them a 38-33 halftime lead and an 11-0 run late in the second half giving them the win. But it didn't come easily, after they blew all of a 44-35 lead early in the second half to trail 51-50 on a three-point shot by Bob Sura with a little under 14 minutes left.
Still trailing 55-53, the Terps took the lead for good on the second of two straight three-pointers by junior guard Johnny Rhodes. After a free throw by Seminoles freshman Corey Louis cut Maryland's lead to 64-62 with 5:20 to play, the Terps pulled away by scoring 16 of the last 19 points.
"They have a great team and have played together for a couple of years," said Sura, who didn't start and played just 27 minutes because of the flu, but managed to finish with 12 points and become the first 2,000-point scorer in Florida State history. "When the game gets close, that's where their experience counts."
Said Florida State coach Pat Kennedy: "That team is a Final Four team. They're so balanced. That's where they kill you."
All five Maryland starters finished in double figures, but Duane Simpkins and Keith Booth needed baskets in the last five seconds to get there. Rhodes and sophomore All-American Joe Smith both scored 18, with Exree Hipp getting 15. Booth and Simpkins had 11. Little-used junior guard Scott Shepherd led Florida State (11-9, 4-7) with 17, all in the first half.
Asked whether he was surprised by Shepherd's first-half output, Williams said: "It surprised him probably. I told him afterward that he played a great game. But he was a good player in high school. You've got to give the guy credit."
Shepherd kept the Seminoles in the game for most of the first half. But after the 5-foot-11 sophomore gave Florida State a 33-29 lead, a three-pointer by reserve guard Wayne Bristol started the Terps on a 12-0 run that extended early into the second half. As happened in Tallahassee last month, the Seminoles came back.
"That's happened with them the last two or three years," said Hipp. "They beat us twice when I was a freshman, but they were pretty close games. We beat them last year and this year the same way. It's been pretty ugly."
Just when it seemed as if Maryland and its fans were being affected by an emotional hangover from Tuesday night's upset of North Carolina, both woke up. The Terps did what they were supposed to by getting the ball inside. And Smith, who had been FTC bothered by Louis (six blocks), did what players of his stature are supposed to. He took over.
A rebound follow by the 6-10 center gave Maryland a 67-62 lead. Smith blocked 6-11 reserve Tim Wooden and Booth was fouled, hitting both ends of a one-and-one. Smith then forced Wooden to shoot quickly. Smith later finished the run with another layup.
"Corey makes it tough for you to shoot, so you have to go right at him," said Smith, who finished with three blocks himself.
That's the kind of feeling Maryland has these days. A lot of teams are coming right at them, trying to make a name off beating the Terps as they once did themselves. This week, it will be No. 11 Wake Forest in Winston-Salem on Wednesday before a nonconference game against unranked Cincinnati at the 7-Up Shootout in San Antonio on Sunday.
This is another sign of how far Maryland has come: Some might have thought the Terps were trying to run up the score in the closing seconds. First there was Simpkins, driving down the lane untouched after Kennedy told his team not to foul. Then there was Booth, taking the ball out of Derrick Carroll's hands and dunking at the buzzer.
"They're still kids and you want them to have fun," said Williams, "But you don't want them to have fun at someone else's expense."
Said Booth: "I won't let up until the final buzzer. That's the way I play. Back when Maryland wasn't very good, other teams would do that to us."
Back in the days when the Terps weren't even painting houses, let alone masterpieces.
NOTES: The victory helped Maryland match its best start since 1979-80, when the Terps started 19-4 before losing to Duke. . . . Its next victory will give Maryland the school's first 20-win season since 1984-85.