Williams' ire lights UM fire, 85-72

Terps rise after technical, top Oral Roberts in NIT

March 17, 2005|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - He has yanked his starting lineup early in a game, publicly challenged his team through the media and, at times, been at odds with one of his star players.

But all it took to wake up the reeling Maryland men's basketball team was for coach Gary Williams to turn his full attention and anger on the referees.

With his team trailing by 11 in the first half and looking hopelessly inept and uninterested in its first-round National Invitation Tournament game vs. Oral Roberts, Williams received his third technical foul of the season, and it ignited the Terps on their way to an 85-72 victory before a small but spirited crowd of 7,047 at Comcast Center.

In their first NIT appearance since 1990, the Terps (17-12) ran off 17 straight points after the Oral Roberts technical foul shots and closed the half on a 24-4 run. That was the difference in Maryland breaking a four-game losing streak and getting its first win since Feb. 19.

Maryland, which played without point guard John Gilchrist (sprained left ankle), advanced to play the winner of Saturday's game between Southwest Missouri State and Davidson. The date and location of the second-round game probably will be determined today, but Comcast Center is a likely site.

"Sometimes you do whatever it takes," said Williams, who was worried about how his team would react after not getting an NCAA tournament bid for the first time since the 1992-93 season. "It's one of those things where you wonder how you are going to come back given the situation. I'm proud of the team and the effort."

Williams also was involved in a heated exchange with the referees and Oral Roberts coach Scott Sutton as both teams headed to the locker rooms for halftime. A couple of police officers stepped in, and Williams exited the court.

Oral Roberts, the regular-season champion of the Mid-Continent Conference, ended its season 25-8 and was never able to recover the momentum that the Terps players credited their coach for wrestling away.

Maryland's players huddled near center court after the Williams technical and reminded each other, according to sophomore guard Mike Jones, to "play hard and have fun.

"I don't think he did it to show up the ref or anything; I think he did it for us," added Jones, who tied junior Travis Garrison for team-high scoring honors with 18 points. "It was like, `If Coach is out here hollering and screaming, the least we can do is play hard.' "

Added junior guard Chris McCray, who did not start last night after missing an academic assignment this week: "[Williams] definitely got our attention."

Leading scorer Nik Caner-Medley was shut out, missing all seven of his shots, and second-leading scorer McCray only had seven points, but Williams got contributions from nearly everyone else.

Nine different Terps played 17 minutes or more, including freshman James Gist, who played despite a bruised left knee.

Sophomore center Will Bowers had 14 points, and junior point guard Sterling Ledbetter filled in admirably for Gilchrist with 10 points, nine rebounds and five assists in his first career start.

After the game, Gilchrist said he's hoping to be ready for the Terps' next game but also acknowledged that this could be his last season at Maryland.

Gilchrist said he probably will gauge his draft status by going to NBA pre-draft camps. If he is unhappy with where he's projected to be drafted and doesn't sign with an agent, he'd be eligible to return to College Park for his senior season.

"I think that's pretty much what's going to happen," Gilchrist said. "I want to keep my options open."

Maryland led by seven at halftime last night, but the Golden Eagles cut it to 57-55 with just under 11 minutes to play on a dunk by Larry Owens.

That's when Jones took over. He hit two free throws and then converted a three-point play to give Maryland a 68-59 lead with under eight minutes to play.

Jones' third three-pointer gave Maryland a 71-62 lead, and the Golden Eagles didn't have the firepower to get back into the game.

Oral Roberts' leading scorer, Caleb Green, had 23 points and 16 rebounds, but sophomore guard Ken Tutt shot just 5-for-27 from the field.

"Nothing would make up for not making the [NCAA] tournament but it would be good if we win this whole thing," Garrison said. "It feels good to come in the locker room with a win instead of hanging our heads."

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