It's a Garden party for UM after 85-73 win over TCU

Caner-Medley's late flurry takes Terps to NIT semis

College Basketball

March 27, 2005|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - The post-game celebration consisted of a few fist pumps and handshakes, and several satisfactory smiles, all as a muted chant of "Final Four" was barely audible at Comcast Center.

It was the type of reaction you might expect from a Maryland team that did not want to be in this situation two weeks ago, but now is just happy to be winning basketball games again.

Thanks to a tough defensive effort in the second half and the persistence of junior forward Nik Caner-Medley, the Terrapins put away Texas Christian, 85-73, yesterday afternoon before 10,608, advancing to Madison Square Garden and the semifinals of the National Invitation Tournament for the first time since 1972.

Armed with its first three-game winning streak since early January, Maryland (19-12) will meet South Carolina (18-13) in New York on Tuesday night in the second NIT semifinal. The game will be played 30 minutes after the conclusion of the semifinal between Memphis and Saint Joseph's at 7 p.m.

"Where we're at right now is the NIT, which is unfortunate," said Caner-Medley, who scored a team-high 20 points on 7-for-12 shooting. "But we are doing what we're supposed to do. We're peaking at the right time and playing really well as a team. We're fortunate to still be playing."

Caner-Medley, a Maine native who has been a spectator at Madison Square Garden but always dreamed of playing there, scored eight points in the last 3:10 of the game, spearheading the Terps on a game-ending 16-5 run after the Horned Frogs (21-14) had pulled within one with 5:08 to play.

After missing everything on a three-pointer on the Terps' previous possession, Caner-Medley stroked a three to give Maryland a 76-70 lead. He then went to the line and made three of four free throws and the Terps' lead would never be below six the rest of the way. Junior guard Chris McCray, who was among Maryland's five double-digit scorers with 18 points, also was 6-for-6 from the line down the stretch.

"He threw that one up that didn't hit anything and then he made a couple," Terps coach Gary Williams said of Caner-Medley. "One thing about Nik, he doesn't give up easily. You have to beat him over the head with a board probably to make him stop shooting, but sometimes, that's a good thing."

Caner-Medley, the Terps' leading scorer, had hit just three of 17 shots in his first two NIT games. Sixteen of his 20 points yesterday came in the second half.

"My confidence has never really been a problem," Caner-Medley said.

Yesterday was the latest in a season full of up-and-down performances for the Terps, who appeared to be on the verge of blowing TCU out with a 14-0 run in the first half to take a 39-27 lead. Maryland, which played its third straight game without injured point guard John Gil-christ, was shooting just below 67 percent from the field with only five minutes to play in the first half.

Then as quickly as they built the 12-point lead, they watched it get whittled away amid a series of rushed shots and poor decisions and a porous defense. TCU closed the first half on a 16-5 run to pull within 44-43 at halftime. The Horned Frogs made nine of 18 three-point attempts in the first half, led by senior Corey Santee, who hit five of seven.

"I thought in the first half, our defense was where it's been at times this year, where it's not quite good enough," Williams said. "I thought we did a better job in the second half. That probably was the difference, just our toughness on the perimeter."

Williams coached yesterday as if the Terps were a game away from the Final Four of the NCAA tournament. As intense as he's been all season, he was hit with his second technical of the NIT, vehemently protesting a foul call on James Gist less than seven minutes into the game.

After pleading with his team at halftime to be more patient on offense and work the ball inside, Williams watched 6-foot-8 junior forward Travis Garrison (15 points, 10 rebounds) launch a three-pointer just nine seconds into the half. Garrison was then promptly summoned to the bench.

"That's two instances of quick," joked Williams, who took a timeout just 1:42 into the second half because he was unhappy with his team's shot selection. "Quick shot, quick coming out."

Mike Jones, who often found open looks against the Horned Frogs' zone defense, hit four three-pointers and scored 18 points and sophomore Ekene Ibekwe added 10 points, eight rebounds and three blocks. Santee led TCU with 21 points, but had just six in the second half. Nile Murry added 20 for the Horned Frogs, who shot 2-for-11 from three-point range in the final 20 minutes.

"We're winning games and that's the most important thing," Garrison said.

After the game, Williams asked the Terps in the locker room if they have ever played at the Garden. Mike Grinnon, who is from Long Island, N.Y., was the only Terp to raise his hand.

"It's a big deal," Williams said. "I think any player that gets a chance to play in Madison Square Garden is lucky. I think every kid ... grew up and wanted to play in the Garden. So here we go."

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