Terps state their case, 70-69

Maryland tops N.C. State on road to lift hopes of 11th straight NCAA bid

Smith's free throws ice victory

Slumping senior helps UM jump to 17-point gap early

Gilchrist hits 21 off bench

March 04, 2004|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

RALEIGH, N.C. - The NCAA tournament committee will need to add another ACC team back on its list of potential invitees - the Maryland Terrapins.

With their hopes of gaining an 11th straight bid fading badly and a 17-point first-half lead on 16th-ranked North Carolina State vanished, the Terrapins somehow found their resolve at the raucous RBC Center last night, pulling out a stunning 70-69 upset and putting themselves in great position to extend their season in the only tournament they want to play.

The victory will only mean something if Maryland (15-11, 6-9 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) can close out its regular season with a win Sunday at home against Virginia, which is also in the running for an at-large bid because of its late-season surge. Since the Terrapins have a significantly higher power rating than the Cavaliers, they will get the nod if it comes down to choosing between the two ACC teams.

"A lot of people who hopped off the bandwagon will now have to hop back on," said senior center Jamar Smith, who made two of four free throws in the final 17 seconds to seal the game.

Said Maryland coach Gary Williams: "Our theme this week was that we were going to decide what happens. Win or lose this week, we were going to decide."

The Terrapins had a committee of players in on that decision.

Sophomore guard John Gilchrist, who started the game on the bench after being five minutes late for breakfast, led Maryland with 21 points, but it was also the play of fellow sophomore Chris McCray early on as well as Smith down the stretch that gave the Terrapins a big lift.

Smith, who has been criticized lately and saw his playing time diminish to a scoreless eight minutes in last Saturday's home defeat to Wake Forest, finished with 16 points, none bigger than the free throws he made. Starting in place of Gilchrist, McCray helped the Terps quickly build their lead to double digits.

But it seemed as if N.C. State (18-8, 10-5), which had overcome its 10-point deficit at halftime to take the lead with an 18-6 run at the start of the second half, would ruin Maryland's effort when the Wolfpack cut a 68-62 deficit to two, 68-66, on a pair of free throws by Marcus Melvin with 1:18 to go.

With a chance to tie the score or take the lead after Nik Caner-Medley missed a shot, Levi Watkins missed a corner jumper and it appeared that D.J. Strawberry was fouled on the rebound. The ball went to the Wolfpack, but Melvin missed a three and Smith was eventually fouled.

"It was nerve-racking, but I found a way to relax," said Smith, who after missing the first made the second to build the lead back to three with 17 seconds to go. "I knew that when I made the second, the worst that could happen was that they would tie and the game would go into overtime."

Said Williams of his only senior: "I'm really happy for Jamar. He's had a tough stretch lately, but with any team, it's never one guy. If you read the papers in Baltimore and Washington, you might have thought it was only Jamar. Now he won't have to read that."

While it was Maryland's offense led by Smith early that staked the Terps to leads of 17-6, 24-12 and eventually 40-23 in the first half, it was their defense down the stretch that helped them regain the lead with critical steals by Gilchrist leading to baskets and a 68-62 lead.

Their defense proved crucial on the last pivotal possession. After Smith hit a free throw for a 69-66 lead, N.C. State called a 30-second timeout. Coming out, Maryland double-teamed Melvin, whose forced three-point shot from the right side hit the back rim and was rebounded by Smith, who had eight overall.

Again, with four seconds to play, Smith hit one of two free throws to finally put away the game. Julius Hodge hit a three-pointer at the buzzer.

Hodge finished with a game-high 27 points on 9-for-13 shooting and Melvin finished with 22 points on 8-for-16 shooting, including four of 11 on threes. Aside from Melvin, the Terrapins did a good job on N.C. State's perimeter shooters, holding Engin Atsur scoreless and limiting Ilian Evtimov to eight points.

"I'd like to give credit to Maryland, they are a good team and they played great basketball tonight," said N.C. State coach Herb Sendek, whose second-place ACC team missed a chance to move closer to Duke, which lost to Georgia Tech. "They are certainly worthy of an NCAA bid."

There will be renewed talk of another NCAA tournament bid now that the Terrapins are back in the hunt.

Gilchrist is breathing a sigh of relief, because he felt he had let his teammates down by oversleeping yesterday. But all that was forgotten for this suddenly revived team.

"We knew we had to win," said McCray, who scored nine points in the first half before getting into second-half foul trouble. "We didn't want to put too much pressure on ourselves. I just felt like I wanted to get the guys off to a good start, but it's a great team win."

Said Gilchrist: "If you get a team down and wounded on their last legs, that's when you get their best shot. We knew that if we didn't win, there goes our season."

Suddenly, the Terps are up on two legs, ready to hop on that bandwagon headed to the NCAA tournament.

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