Blake wins unanimous decision over Hodge

January 31, 2003|By Mike Preston

COLLEGE PARK -- Maybe N.C. State's Julius Hodge meant grocery list instead of hit list. Or was it a Christmas list, or a list of things to do later in the year?

Hodge said he wanted a piece of Steve Blake last night, and he got all of him. Blake had 20 points. Seven assists. Seven of 10 from the field, including 4-for-4 from three-point range. He asked for Blake, and he got him. Maybe Hodge should talk less and play better. Take Blake off his list and forget about what happened last year -- and last night, too.

If this was indeed a revenge game for Hodge, maybe he needs to wait until March 2 when the Terps visit Raleigh, N.C. Hodge was on the court last night, but he didn't bring his A game. This probably wasn't his B-plus game, either.

All Blake did was carry a struggling Maryland offense for the first 30 minutes of the game by hitting four straight three-pointers. Once the No. 10 Terps got warmed up, they defeated N.C. State, 75-60, last night at the Comcast Center.

In case you are unaware, Hodge, the Wolfpack's multitalented forward/guard, basically borrowed a line from soul singer James Brown and declared this season as the year of the Big Payback. He declared that the Terps, especially Blake, were on his imaginary hit list.

The two players have a history, and they won't be inviting each other to dinner anytime soon.

Last year in Game 1, Blake reportedly got away with a shot to Hodge's midsection. In Game 2, Hodge retaliated with a forearm to the back of Blake's head, which resulted in a one-game suspension for Hodge and Blake reportedly calling him a "punk."

Round 3 last night was expected to be another verbal and physical exchange, but there were no cheap shots or much trash talking exchanged. All you saw were two of the best players in the Atlantic Coast Conference go head-to-head at times, and Blake came out the winner.

And it was so fun to watch.

Their roles are so different, yet so similar. Hodge runs the Wolfpack offense, but at times he does it without the ball. He moves extremely well and is in constant motion trying to get his teammates involved.

Hodge had seven points in the first half on 2-for-5 field-goal shooting, but he also had four assists and two steals. He made a nifty pass inside the lane to center Melvin Marcus for an easy layup with 16:53 left in the first half that put the Wolfpack ahead 7-4. He then connected on a three-point play by slicing through the lane for a layup with 12:30 to go in the first half and hitting the ensuing foul shot.

He connected on both ends of a one-and-one with 1:57 to play, but 36 seconds later, the frustration began to show on his face. He wasn't getting the ball. He wasn't taking over the game, and Blake was lighting him up. Hodge drew Maryland's Calvin McCall and Nik Caner-Medley on the defensive end, but Blake had Hodge.

One-on-one. Man-on-man.

He asked for it.

Blake used a crossover dribble on Hodge and then shot a jumper from the top of the key with 15:23 remaining in the first half. The crowd went wild. Then Blake shot a two-pointer over Hodge with 8:16 remaining in the half. More hysterics from the crowd that had chanted Hodge's name before the game.

Blake gave Hodge another three-point facial with about two minutes left in the half, and then dropped another three-pointer with 1:39 left as Maryland went ahead 26-24.

If Hodge thought Blake was going to cool down in the second half, he was wrong. Blake opened the second quarter with a three-pointer, then blew by guard Clifford Crawford for a layup with 17:51 left in the game. Blake's three-pointer with 16:36 to play put Maryland ahead 38-34, and, by then, the rest of the Terps were warming up.

With 15:02 left in the game, Maryland went on a 17-3 run for the next five minutes to enjoy a 55-41 lead, and make a rally by N.C. State nearly impossible.

But Blake wasn't done. He had two more assists in the game's final 2 1/2 minutes, both to Caner-Medley, to put away the pesky Wolfpack.

"The big difference was turnovers," said N.C. State coach Herb Sendek. "It's difficult to overcome 21 turnovers, although we forced 17 ourselves. There was a significant stretch when they took the lead in the second half on a 17-3 run, but our guys battled back and cut the lead to six. We had an opportunity down the home stretch to at least have a chance.

"But credit Maryland, they are an outstanding team and it is obvious why they are one of the best teams in the country. Once again, their senior backcourt of Nicholas and Blake were nothing short of sensational tonight."

It was just the encore for Blake, who became the director of the offense as opposed to a scorer in the first half. There are some questions about his game, but none about his competitive spirit.

Hodge finished with 14 points on 3-for-8 shooting from the field. He had eight assists. It wasn't a bad night, but not a good night for a guy who was supposed to be headhunting.

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