Nicholas' `biggest' 3 sinks 'Pack

Senior's shot at :01 caps rally at N.C. State, 68-65

Williams wins his 500th

Terps alone in 2nd place in ACC

Holden scores 20

Blake's lone basket aids 21-7 close

March 03, 2003|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

RALEIGH, N.C. - The Maryland Terrapins seemed on the verge of falling out of contention more than once last night at RBC Arena, but they never stopped coming after North Carolina State.

On a night when senior point guard Steve Blake nearly went scoreless for the first time this season, and on a night when the Wolfpack scored basket after basket with the shot clock about to expire and nearly had the game under control midway through the second half, Maryland showed what the heart of a defending national champion looks like.

Senior guard Drew Nicholas made a dramatic three-point basket with 1.5 seconds left to complete a stirring Maryland comeback and push the 14th-ranked Terps to a 68-65 victory before 19,722 stunned spectators.

What a way for Maryland to reward coach Gary Williams with his 500th career victory. By winning their fifth game in six tries, by twice erasing double-digit Wolfpack leads after halftime, by recording their biggest road victory of the year, the Terps (19-7, 11-4) moved into sole possession of second place in the Atlantic Coast Conference, a half game behind Wake Forest and a half game ahead of Duke.

With a victory at Virginia in Sunday's regular-season finale, Maryland can get no worse than the second seed in the ACC tournament.

The Terps, who are one victory away from their seventh consecutive 20-win season, gave Williams a night to remember. Senior forward Tahj Holden scored a career-high 20 points and grabbed nine rebounds. The Terps, sparked by the bench play of freshman point guard John Gilchrist and junior center Jamar Smith, forced a series of key turnovers to create crucial second-half baskets and wore down the Wolfpack with depth and will.

But at the end of Maryland's game-ending 21-7 run - which erased a 58-47 N.C. State lead with nine minutes left - it was Nicholas stepping up to bury a 22-footer, as he leaned back in front of the Maryland bench with Wolfpack guard Scooter Sherrill guarding him and the score tied at 65.

"The biggest shot of my life. It can't get bigger than that," said Nicholas, who scored 13 of his 17 points in the second half. "Bigger than the two threes I made at Virginia [in another memorable comeback last season], bigger than any high school shot, fourth grade shot. I'm taking that one. We're away from our home court, in front of 20,000 people, it's a huge game for us. It still hasn't gotten through."

"It's kind of ridiculous," said Williams, who was drenched in sweat in Maryland's post-game locker room. "That was a hard game to coach. I was upset because we weren't playing that well. But when you come back twice from 10 down in the second half, you need some energy. It was there. We just couldn't find a way to tap it.

"This has been a great team, in terms of finding ways to stay in games and finding ways to win games. We had to scramble."

The Wolfpack (15-10, 8-6) will finish in fourth place in the league. But N.C. State may have to beat Wake Forest on Saturday to make its second straight trip to the NCAA tournament.

Maryland won the game because it had more players and more left in its legs, while the Wolfpack, whose big men were in serious foul trouble throughout the second half, lacked enough depth to close the deal. The Terps finished by shooting 52 percent in the second half, including a 4-for-5 showing by Nicholas.

Sherrill led N.C. State with 14 points. Forward Marcus Melvin had 13 points and five rebounds. Forward Julius Hodge finished with 12 points, but just two in the second half.

During the 21-7 comeback, five Terps scored, beginning with Nicholas, who ignited the run with an 18-footer and three free throws. Holden also scored five points during that stretch, while Gilchrist and Smith wore down the Wolfpack with their athleticism. The Terps went to their full-court pressure after they had cut a 10-point Wolfpack advantage to 47-45, only to have the Wolfpack answer with an 11-2 run.

"I told them we're either going to lose by 30 or we're going to win this. I don't like six-point losses," said Williams, who called several quick timeouts in succession during N.C. State's surge. "You have to scramble. You have to gamble with your presses."

Blake, who finished with two points, made his only basket count, as his 18-footer tied the game at 63 with 2:08 left. Gilchrist then grabbed an offensive rebound and made a reverse layup to make it 65-63 for Maryland's first lead since being in front 17-15 with 9:25 left in the first half.

That was merely a setup for Nicholas, who answered a game-tying jumper by Melvin with the shot of his life. Following Melvin's jumper with 14 seconds left, Wolfpack coach Herb Sendek burned his last timeout to set up his defense. Blake then brought the ball up court, dished off of to Nicholas, who measured Sherrill before putting a dagger into his team.

"When I got the ball, my first intention was to drive and try to draw a foul," Nicholas said. "But Sherrill kind of stepped in front of me, so I stepped back and let it fly."

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