UM restores swagger after doing a number on 9th-ranked UNC

Win Wednesday is another over a ranked opponent with rough road ahead

College Basketball

January 16, 2004|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - The Maryland Terrapins would be the first to admit they are not the smoothest basketball team. But don't question their resiliency.

Wednesday night's 90-84, come-from-behind victory over visiting, ninth-ranked North Carolina, a win that should catapult the Terps into the Top 25 for the second time this season, is the latest shred of proof.

It marked Maryland's third victory over a ranked opponent in four tries and its second over a Top 10 school. It left the most youthful team in the Atlantic Coast Conference with a restored sense of swagger.

The Terps were coming off an eight-day layoff and had played only five games in the previous month. Five weeks had passed since their road victory against then-top-ranked Florida. Their ACC-opening loss at Florida State had come 17 days earlier.

But here are the Terps, ready to face the brutality that is their conference schedule - starting with back-to-back confrontations at 12th-ranked Georgia Tech tomorrow and against visiting No. 2 Duke on Wednesday - with a 10-3 record. Here are the Terps, having protected their home court, a sacred place in the ACC.

"I knew we would go all-out. I just didn't know how well we would play, since we hadn't played a game against a good team in so long," Maryland coach Gary Williams said.

The Terps, who committed 22 turnovers, played well when it counted.

First, they absorbed all the blows the Tar Heels could muster with their full-court quickness. In the first half, which resembled a track meet led by point guards Raymond Felton and John Gilchrist, Maryland paid for its defensive problems in transition by allowing 49 points, the most it has surrendered in an opening half this season.

The key was Maryland's ability to run and trade baskets enough to erase a double-digit deficit and close to 49-47 at the half.

"It looked like a pingpong game for a while," Maryland freshman guard Mike Jones said.

Maryland then played its way in the second half by pounding the ball inside to senior center Jamar Smith, by forcing Carolina into a half-court game and by refusing to let 6-foot-9 center Sean May beat them with his polish in the post. Maryland even crossed up the Tar Heels with a smattering of zone defense.

The Tar Heels settled for too many jump shots as a result, shot just 32.4 percent in the second half, and never could overtake the Terps after Maryland grabbed the lead for the only the second time at 56-54 with 15:43 remaining.

"We've been able to go on runs this year, and that's a good thing. Run and pass and hit threes and play hard and fast," said Gilchrist, who was singing in front of his locker in celebration after playing 38 exhausting minutes.

"But sometimes, it bites us in the butt, because when we need to be poised, it's been hard for us to play smart. You don't know what you're going to be able to do in a game like this. We slowed down and ran our half-court offense. It was a character-builder. Now, we have it in the back of our minds that we can do this."

Maryland's confidence was bolstered everywhere. Smith out-dueled the bigger May with a game-high 22 points, including 14 in the second half. Gilchrist held his own against Felton and scored 20. Jones came off the bench to produce seven huge minutes in the first half with five points and three rebounds. He nearly cut a 40-30 Carolina lead in half by himself.

Freshman Ekene Ibekwe started his second game in place of sophomore Travis Garrison, and the duo gave the Terps excellent production at power forward with a combined 20 points and 11 rebounds. Ibekwe stirred the crowd with his leaping and dunking ability before fouling out. Among his mistakes was a technical foul for hanging on the rim. Garrison made key plays in crunch time and converted all five of his free-throw attempts.

And with the exception of Smith (6-for-14), the Terps looked as if they were approaching a cure at the foul line. Ranked last in the ACC in free-throw percentage, the Terps made 71.4 percent of their attempts, including 19 of 21 by all players besides Smith.

"We took their hits," said Williams, who smiled at the way the Terps wavered without cracking. "We adjusted at halftime, and we responded."

Next for Terps

Matchup: Maryland (10-3, 1-1) vs. No. 12 Georgia Tech (13-2, 1-1)

Site: Alexander Memorial Coliseum, Atlanta

When: Tomorrow, 8 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)

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