Terps state their case, top Wolfpack

Big lead gone, Maryland perseveres at N.C. State to lift NCAA hopes, 70-69

Smith's free throws ice victory

Slumping senior responds with big game

Gilchrist hits 21 off bench vs. No. 16

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 N.C. State vanished, the Terrapins somehow found their resolve at the raucous RBC Center last night, pulling out a stunning 70-69 victory and putting themselves in great position to extend their season in the only tournament they want to play.

John Gilchrist, who started the game on the bench after missing a team function earlier in the day, led Maryland (15-11, 6-9) with 21 points and gave the Terps a 68-62 lead on a pair of free throws with 2:17 left. It looked as if the Wolfpack would ruin Maryland's night, and season, when it cut its deficit to 68-66.

But N.C. State (18-8, 10-5) missed its last three shots, including a pair of threes by Marcus Melvin, who had 22 points for the Wolfpack. Jamar Smith, a 42 percent free-throw shooter, made three of four free throws to seal the game. Julius Hodge (27 points) hit a meaningless three at the buzzer, but it didn't stop the Terps from starting their post-game celebration right on the court.

"Our theme this week was we were going to decide what happens," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "Win or lose, we were going to decide. Obviously there was a sense of urgency to win this. The pressure was on our players. I thought they came out really well and our defense was great down the stretch."

The victory will only mean something if Maryland can close its regular season with a win Sunday night against Virginia, which has suddenly become another NCAA bubble team with its late-season surge. With a much higher Ratings Percentage Index, the Terps likely would get the nod over the Cavaliers if the selection committee was forced to choose between the two.

"A lot of people who have hopped off the bandwagon will now have to hop back on," Smith said after bouncing back from a slump to score 16 points with eight rebounds.

Struggling offensively, particularly in the first half of recent losses to North Carolina and Wake Forest, Maryland looked like a different team against the Wolfpack.

In part, it was because Gilchrist was benched for being late to a team function earlier in the day. Mostly, though, it was because the Terps were suddenly hitting their shots.

Chris McCray, who had been banished from the starting lineup after a loss at Duke on Feb. 22, took Gilchrist's place as well as his role as the team's offensive spark.

The sophomore guard hit his first three shots and Maryland its first five to jump-start the Terps to a lead that would grow to 11, 17-6, with 12:43 to go and to as many as 17, 40-23, with 3:40 left.

McCray had help. Senior Smith, who had all but disappeared recently and was benched for the last 19 minutes of Sunday's loss to Wake Forest, looked more like the player who dominated several games earlier this season.

Smith scored the game's first basket on a strong inside move, surprisingly made two straight free throws, and buried a 17-footer for a 28-14 lead. The hectic pace of the game was certainly in Maryland's favor.

"I'm really happy for him," Williams said of Smith, his lone senior. "He's had a tough stretch recently. With the team, it's never one guy, but if you read the papers lately, a lot was on Jamar. Now, we won't have to read about that."

Gilchrist, who came in with a little more than five minutes gone in the game, took a while to get into the flow. But he went on his own mini spree, scoring six straight and finishing the half with 15. McCray had nine.

After making a wide-open three for a 24-14 lead, Gilchrist made the most interesting play of the first half when he threw an inbounds pass of Ilian Evtimov's back and scored to increase the lead to 26-14.

It took awhile for N.C. State's Hodge to get going, but both he and fellow senior Melvin helped bring the Wolfpack back to within 44-34 by halftime.

Hodge didn't score his first basket until 12:29 left in the first half, but he finished the half with 11 points. Melvin had 15, including a pair of threes.

The Terps shot 15 of 29 in the half, including five of eight on threes and a respectable nine of 13 from the free-throw line. The Wolfpack was 11-for-29 from the field, 5-for-14 on threes. The nation's leading free-throw shooters made all seven of the foul shots.

N.C. State started the second half with an 18-6 run, taking its first lead at 52-50 on a three by Ilian Evtimov. It seemed as if the Terps were teetering, but they showed more resolve than in recent weeks by coming back and clawing back into the lead, 56-54, on a three by Nik Caner-Medley with 11:52 left in the game.

After Hodge tied the game at 56, Smith hit inside to give the Terps the lead. Ekene Ibekwe then blocked Melvin on a drive, and D.J. Strawberry was fouled going to the basket for a breakaway layup. He made the second of two free throws for a 59-56 lead. N.C. State guard Cameron Bennerman then made two free throws.

The Terps hung in there. After Melvin gave the Wolfpack the lead at 62-61, Strawberry hit an off-balance shot, was fouled and made the free throw to put Maryland ahead with 9:05 to play. Bennerman missed a runner, but Gilchrist failed to make a pull-up jumper as the 35-second clock was winding down. The Terps stayed close despite McCray being on the bench with four personals.

Next for Terps

Matchup: Virginia (16-10, 6-9 ACC) vs. Maryland (15-11, 6-9)

Site: Comcast Center, College Park

When: Sunday, 8 p.m.

TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)

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