UM drops No. 1 Fla. in OT

Terps lose 17-point lead with 2nd-half cold spell, rebound for 69-68 upset

`We showed great character'

Garrison hits jump shot to win it

Williams gets 300th victory at Maryland

December 11, 2003|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- They watched a huge lead melt away, only to find themselves trying to survive in yet another overtime contest. Their starting point guard fouled out just before the extra period arrived. They nearly buckled under the pressure that comes with playing in the so-called House of Horrors against the nation's No. 1 team.

Still, the Maryland Terrapins would not quit against the Florida Gators last night. The Terps dug down and did just enough to reverse their recent course and inject new spark into an unpredictable season.

Maryland sent a message at the sold-out, raucous O'Connell Center, where the Terps blew a 17-point second-half lead, fell behind twice in overtime, but got a game-winning 15-foot jumper from sophomore forward Travis Garrison, whose only points of the contest pushed the Terps to a stunning 69-68 victory.

If the Terps were reeling after getting swept last weekend for the first time in the history of the BB&T Classic, including an overtime loss to West Virginia on Sunday, they are flying again. And the Terps in all likelihood have earned a spot in the Top 25 for the first time this season by knocking off the top dog. The Gators had assumed the No. 1 mantle three days ago.

Garrison's first basket of the night, from the right wing, came with 18.4 seconds left in overtime, and it gave coach Gary Williams his 300th victory at Maryland and put the Terps (5-2) back on their feet again.

What a way to avoid the program's first three-game losing streak in nearly three years. What a way to beat a top-ranked opponent for the third straight season and ninth time in school history. The Terps did it by pushing through their third overtime game of the season.

"We certainly haven't been consistent this year. Somehow, we found the toughness to go out there and play tonight. It's been a tough week for us," said Williams, whose Terps stopped Florida's 40-game winning streak at home against nonconference opponents and finished a nine-day stretch in which they beat two ranked teams.

"I was really proud of Travis. He's been struggling, and he had the guts to take a shot like that in that situation," Williams added. "I know we blew a 17-point lead. I guess we're going to be the type of team that plays in spurts. We got away with a win. We just never quit."

"Sometimes, it's grimy, and you have to grind a win out," said point guard John Gilchrist, who fouled out with 12 seconds left in regulation, after scoring 18 points. "We showed great character."

Maryland flashed it in spades. There was sophomore forward Nik Caner-Medley, who scored the Terps' first six points in overtime and finished with 22, along with a career-high 13 rebounds, and preserved the win by blocking a shot in close by forward Adrian Moss with 3.9 seconds left.

There was senior center Jamar Smith, who produced his sixth double double of the season with 14 points and 12 rebounds. There was freshman D.J. Strawberry, who played a career-high 26 minutes, many of them as Gilchrist's backup -- including the entire extra period -- and finished with just one turnover.

And there was Garrison, who missed five of six shots, but hit the big one after being left wide open on the right baseline.

"I was struggling the whole night," Garrison said. "But that's my shot. I have to take that shot and make that shot."

It was an emotional night, marked by the rowdiness of the Florida fans, who were warned several times after throwing objects on the court.

It was a frustrating night for the Gators (5-1), who ran into a Maryland team that finally put together a dogged defensive effort from start to finish. Florida shot 25 percent in the first half and finished with a season-low 31.3 percent.

Forwards Christian Drejer (13 points) and David Lee shot a combined 4-for-24. Guards Anthony Roberson (team-high 20 points) and Matt Walsh shot a combined 10-for-28.

Maryland learned more about its heart and will. The Terps heard the fans heckling Strawberry unmercifully with references to the past troubles of his father, former baseball player Darryl Strawberry, and kept pounding.

They went through another painful scoring drought -- nine points over the last 15 minutes of regulation and no baskets over the last nine minutes -- but did not falter.

"It was the whole team rebounding, making the extra pass, hustling, playing defense," said Caner-Medley, who had a double double by halftime. "What makes it feel extra good is we did it in a hostile environment.

"[Strawberry] plays with heart. People were saying things about him that no human being should have to hear. If they want to go below the belt, then we'll take this win as going below their belt."

Maryland was nearly kicking into cruise control in the first five minutes of the second half. The Terps had played their best half of the season early while taking a 39-27 halftime lead, then stretched it to 51-34 with 15:10 remaining in the game. Caner-Medley made a pair of three-pointers during the run.

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