Poise steers Terps by Heels on road

Vets, Gilchrist rattle kids of N.C., 81-66

3 wins in row UM's series best since '65

College Basketball

January 23, 2003|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - There would be no misstep away from home this time for the Maryland Terrapins.

No. 12 Maryland, fresh off its biggest victory of the season over Duke, took its momentum on the road, took the best shots that North Carolina had to offer, and never relinquished its grip on the action at the Dean Smith Center.

The result was an 81-66 victory before 21,750 that gave the Terps their first Atlantic Coast Conference road victory of the season and put Maryland (11-4, 4-1) atop the league standings with Duke's loss to N.C. State.

The Terps were not always sharp, but they were diligent in the way they exploited the Tar Heels (11-6, 2-2), who are without injured freshman star center Sean May (broken foot) for at least another month. And they looked nothing like the team that sleepwalked through much of their ACC road opener at Wake Forest last week.

Maryland committed itself to going inside early, expanded its offense beyond the three-point line later, had four players score in double figures and answered every Carolina run with a spark of its own, before finishing off the Tar Heels at the free-throw line.

"That's always a monkey, until you get it. We didn't play particularly well at Wake. We preach all the time about playing with consistency, whether it's at home or on the road," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "The difference in our team this year is we don't know how we're going to be good each game. Somebody has to step up. From a coaching standpoint, it's a lot of fun."

The Terps, who have now beaten the Tar Heels three straight times - the first time that has happened since 1965 - were good in a variety of ways. Maryland, which led for the game's final 33 minutes, got key contributions from its entire starting lineup of five seniors, along with a huge second-half lift from freshman John Gilchrist, who blunted Carolina's most spirited charge early in the second half with back-to-back baskets.

Senior guard Drew Nicholas set the tone and finished with a team-high 20 points on 8-for-14 shooting, including 4-for-8 from three-point range. Senior center Ryan Randle feasted on his matchup with freshman Tar Heels center Byron Sanders by collecting his fifth double double with 16 points and 10 rebounds.

Senior point guard Steve Blake, banished to the bench for an eight-minute, second-half stretch after committing a series of turnovers early, finished with 17 points and got the last word by making eight consecutive free throws over the game's final 1:18. He made nine foul shots overall in the second half for a career high.

Senior forward Tahj Holden complemented Randle with 11 points, five rebounds and four blocks. Senior guard Calvin McCall (seven points, six rebounds) had his hands full chasing Carolina freshman sensation Rashad McCants, who finished with a game-high 26 points and single-handedly kept the Tar Heels in the game at times.

Sophomore forward Jawad Williams had 18 points and seven rebounds for Carolina. Freshman point guard Raymond Felton had 14 points and seven rebounds.

"Take a real good look at our league. It's really going to be the road games that decide who the good teams are," Nicholas said. "We knew we had to stay focused tonight. We knew Carolina wasn't going to give up. They are a very talented team. We just stayed composed. They made their runs, and we kept making our runs and saying, `Handle that.' "

Ultimately, Carolina, which has been good enough to beat two Top 10 teams already despite its youthful squad, did not have enough size or savvy to hang with Maryland.

And on a night when the veterans stood tall, Maryland's point guard of the future made his presence known in a large way.

With Nicholas showing the way early, the Terps used an 11-0 run to take a 37-22 lead late in the first half, after which the Tar Heels whittled it down to 39-31 at halftime. Then, the lead shrunk to 41-39 with 17:05 to go, after Maryland committed three turnovers and Felton energized the home crowd by making two three-pointers and scoring eight points.

That's when Gilchrist replaced Blake and silenced the masses by giving the Terps one final push. First, he drove the lane and made a difficult finger roll. Then, he faked out two defenders with a great ball fake in the lane and drove for a layup, making it 45-39.

With that, Maryland was off on a decisive, 14-2 run that Gilchrist completed with a pair of free throws at the 10:48 mark, giving the Terps a 55-41 lead.

"I just saw an opening in the lane and went after it," Gilchrist said. "When I step on the floor and get my chance, I don't want to blow it. I wanted to come in and complete the game."

The Tar Heels would get no closer than eight points after that, as Maryland overcame some early problems at the foul line, mostly due to Blake. The Terps protected the ball smartly and withstood a final flurry by McCants by taking and making high-percentage shots.

"It's comforting as a player when you have experienced players around you in tough situations, because you can lean on them on the floor," Carolina coach Matt Doherty said. "You have to give Maryland a lot of credit. They've got a fabulous team and an experienced team."

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