COLLEGE PARK - He has yanked his entire 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 awaken the reeling Maryland men's basketball team last night was for Terrapins coach Gary Williams to turn his attention and anger on the referees.
With his team trailing by 13 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 of the season and it ignited the Terps on their way to a 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 Williams" technical late in the first half 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 advances to play the winner of Saturday's game between Southwest Missouri State and Davidson. That game will be played next week at a date and location to be determined. Oral Roberts, the regular-season champion of the Mid- Continent Conference, ended its season at 25-8.
With leading scorer Nik Caner-Medley and second-leading scorer Chris McCray struggling mightily to give the Terps anything on offense and point guard John Gilchrist unavailable because of injury, Maryland got 18 points from Mike Jones, 18 points and 11 rebounds from junior forward Travis Garrison and a career-high 14 from Will Bowers.
McCray had just seven points and didn't score until more than 24 minutes had elapsed in the game. Caner- Medley missed all seven of his field-goal attempts and was shut out.
Maryland led by seven at halftime, but the Golden Eagles, slowly but surely, worked their way back into the game. A monster dunk by Larry Owens over Bowers and the ensuing free throw inched Oral Roberts within 53-49.
It was 57-55 for Maryland after another dunk by Owens with just under 11 minutes to play, but then Jones started to take 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 made it 71-62 for Maryland, and the Golden Eagles simply didn't have the firepower to rally. Sophomore guard Ken Tutt, the team's second-leading scorer, shot just 5-for-27 from the field. The Golden Eagles also made just three of 21 three-point attempts.
From the moment they learned they wouldn't be playing in their 12th consecutive NCAA tournament, the Terps, who have admitted to a lack of effort at times this season, insisted they"d have no trouble getting motivated for an NIT game.
But they"re not exactly used to playing in front of a half-empty Comcast Center and without their starting point guard either. Gilchrist, who sprained his ankle in the ACC tournament loss to Clemson and has been nursing a sore right wrist for most of the season, appeared fine running off the court after the shoot-around but did not play last night.
In what may be one of his last nights in a Terps uniform, Gilchrist, who said last week that he is 50-50 on whether he returns for his senior season or enters the NBA draft, was animated on the bench throughout, even dancing during pre-game warm-ups.
Sterling Ledbetter made his first career start and Jones was also in the starting lineup in place of McCray. But the new additions to the lineup did little to raise the team's energy level early.
The Terps went nearly six minutes without a field goal and trailed 17-9. After one errant pass by Caner-Medley, the crowd even started to shower the Terps with boos.
Minutes later, they chanted 'air ball' when Caner-Medley, who missed his first four shots, was long on a baseline jumper, and the junior forward was booed when he entered and exited the game.
Williams was just as testy as the crowd. Angry after one call, he took a couple of steps onto the court to berate an official and was given his third technical of the season. The technical seemed to wake the slumbering Terps, who trailed by as many as 13 points in the first half.
Maryland, ignited by consecutive three-pointers by Jones and Mike Grinnon, went on a 17-0 run to take a 32-28 lead. The Golden Eagles went scoreless for 5:10 and had just two field goals the last 7M-= minutes of the first half.