Terps take down No. 9 Tar Heels

UM earns first victory of young ACC season

Smith scores 22 points

Maryland 90, North Carolina 84

January 15, 2004|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - It was exactly the type of Atlantic Coast Conference home opener the Maryland Terrapins envisioned against ninth-ranked North Carolina. Lots of scoring. A breakneck pace. Tension galore.

Last night at Comcast Center, before a loud, packed house of 17,950, the Terps and the Tar Heels dished it out and took it and dished it out some more.

And after never having a lead in the first half, Maryland used solid defense, clutch free-throw shooting and outstanding performances from senior center Jamar Smith and sophomore point guard John Gilchrist to produce a 90-84 victory.

Maryland (10-3, 1-1 ACC) won its fourth consecutive conference home opener, beat the Tar Heels (10-3, 1-2) for the sixth time in seven tries in College Park, and in the process handed first-year Carolina coach Roy Williams his first ACC loss on the road.

To do it, the Terps had to survive some crisp Carolina punches, starting with a fast break that ran Maryland silly at times in the first half, and a continuous spark supplied by sophomore point guard Raymond Felton. But after sophomore guard Chris McCray scored on a slam in transition to give Maryland a 56-54 lead with 15:43 left, the Terps never trailed.

"It's a great win for our program. Every time we step on the floor for a big game, we come ready to play," Gilchrist said. "That's something Maryland has prided itself on, no matter what the year is. There's no rebuilding year. We expect to win these games."

Gilchrist, locked in an entertaining battle with Felton, scored 20 points. Smith, who went head-to-head all night against talented Carolina sophomore center Sean May, scored 14 of his team-high 22 points in the second half. Sophomore forward Nik Caner-Medley awakened from an ineffective first half to finish with 17 points. Sophomore forward Ekene Ibekwe scored 11.

Maryland, which was coming off an eight-day layoff, battled back to within 49-47 at halftime after trailing by as many as 10 points early. Then, the Terps showed remarkable composure on a night when they committed 22 turnovers. Maryland displayed its cool the most where they have struggled the most this year - at the free-throw line.

Maryland broke a 78-78 tie with 2:34 left, when Smith converted one of two free throws. That started a finishing kick in which the Terps made 10 of their last 14 foul shots to seal a huge victory, their third against ranked opponents. The Terps entered the contest ranked dead last in the ACC in free-throw shooting percentage.

"We've been waiting for it. Carolina was fouling us on every possession, and we're the last-place shooting team in the league. I'd do it a hundred times. When you start making them, it's contagious," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, who is now 3-0 against Roy Williams.

"At halftime, I was all ready to be upset walking in [the locker room] about getting back on defense. Then I realized, we were trying. You can't duplicate in practice what Felton can do. How quick were they?"

The Terps countered by making shots early and often, finishing with a season-best 54.4 percent shooting percentage. They also made sure to get down the court quickly to force the Tar Heels to slow down and run set plays. Carolina shot just 32.4 percent in the second half.

"We felt if we could get back better [on defense], they would have to run their half-court offense more," Williams said. "We take a lot of pride in our half-court defense. It's tough to play anybody really well when you're in transition all the time."

And it would have been extremely tough for Maryland to nail down this win without an awakening at the foul line. The Terps finished 25-for-35 and shot 71.4 percent, their second-best showing of the season. Smith, who also had a team-high nine rebounds, continued to struggle at the line by making just six of 14 attempts. The rest of the Terps shot a sizzling 19-for-21.

But Smith had his moments against May, who led the Tar Heels with 18 points. Smith, using his quickness to counter the bulkier May, scored 10 of Maryland's first 15 points to open the second half. His personal, six-point flurry sparked a 12-0 Maryland run that put the Terps in front 60-54 with 14:35 left.

Felton, one of five Carolina starters to score in double figures, finished with 16 points for Carolina. Forward Rashad McCants wound up with 15 points.

"There were points in the game when I was having trouble sticking [May], and points where I did a good job. I haven't felt like I've been playing my game for most of the season," said Smith, who entered the contest as the only other ACC player besides May averaging a double double. "This was very big for me."

"I played like a baby out there," said May, who shot 7-for-19 and had nine rebounds. "I just wasn't finishing. I got frustrated and it didn't happen for me. [Smith] is a good player. He did what he had to do to win. Give him credit. I just wasn't me today. I might as well have not even been on the floor."

The Terps brought double- and triple-teams to bear on May, who is still bothered by the effects of a sprained left ankle he suffered last month. Roy Williams thought Maryland's work in the post was key at both ends of the floor.

"They were swarming. They got people around [May]. That was their focus, so it seemed to work," Roy Williams said. "I think they were really focused on getting the ball to Jamar Smith, and we didn't do a good job of guarding him. That was big. It wasn't a very good day."

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