Nicholas sinks 3, N.C. State

Senior's shot at :01 caps road rally as Williams wins his 500th, 68-65

Terps climb to 2nd place in ACC

Blake held to 2 points

5 score in late 21-7 run

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 at 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, completing a stirring Maryland comeback and pushing the 14th-ranked Terps to a 68-65 victory before 19,722 stunned spectators.

What a way for Maryland (19-7, 11-4) to reward coach Gary Williams with his 500th career victory. By winning their fifth game in six tries, the Terps moved into 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 fare no worse than gaining the second seed in the upcoming 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 John Gilchrist and junior center Jamar Smith, forced a series of key turnovers and created crucial second-half baskets.

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 anything in high school, a fourth-grade shot, any shot. We"re on the road, 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 mad because we weren't playing that well. But when you're down by 10 and 11 like we were, you need some energy, and it was there. 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 in order to make its second straight trip to the NCAA tournament.

Maryland, which twice trailed in the second half by double digits, 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, did not 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.

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.

Blake, who finished with two points, made the 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.

That was merely a setup for Nicholas, who answered a game-tying jumper by Marcus Melvin with the shot of his life.

"We wanted to make this win special for [Williams]." Holden said. "We wanted to make him sweat."

The first half featured eight ties, seven lead changes and had its share of emotional charge, as Blake drew a technical foul after getting a shot blocked beneath the basket by Wolfpack point guard Clifford Crawford, and Melvin drew an intentional foul call late in the half after taking a swing at Holden.

Neither team shot the ball that well early. Maryland, led by Holden's 13 first-half points, used its edge on the offensive glass to stay with N.C. State, while the Wolfpack used its touch at the free-throw line to take a 39-34 advantage at halftime.

N.C. State made its first 12 foul shots, extending its streak over two games to 34, before forward Levi Watkins made a three-pointer from the left corner to give the Wolfpack a 36-33 lead with 1:31 left in the half, be fore failing to convert a four-point play after drawing a foul by Calvin McCall.

Holden almost kept the Terps in the game early by himself, as Blake and Nicholas struggled badly offensively, missing nine of 10 shots in the opening half. Holden's three opened the game's scoring. His second three-pointer, off a Blake feed into the left corner, put Maryland in front, 12-10.

And after the Wolfpack opened up a 25-21 lead, Holden's layup off of his own offensive rebound, followed by two free throws pulled Maryland to within 27-25 with 5:09 left in the half.

The Wolfpack jumped on Maryland quickly in the second half, bolting to a 47-37 lead. The Terps missed their first two shots of the half, while Scooter Sherrill made a three-pointer and Crawford made a 15-footer. Sherrill then answered a three by Nicholas with a long three from the left wing.

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