Terps claw past No. 6 Eagles

McCray's free throws seal No. 21 Maryland's upset in BC's conference debut

Maryland 73, Boston College 71

College Basketball

December 12, 2005|By HEATHER A. DINICH | HEATHER A. DINICH,SUN REPORTER

COLLEGE PARK -- The biggest question heading into last night's game might have been how the Maryland men's basketball team would start - not only if it could break its habit of subpar first halves, but also whether the Terps could begin their Atlantic Coast Conference schedule by beating an unfamiliar ranked team making its debut in the league.

On both fronts, Maryland (7-2, 1-0 ACC) started strong, and the Terps finished with a 73-71 win over the No. 6-ranked Eagles (6-2, 0-1), as students and fans, part of a crowd of 17,950 at Comcast Center, jumped the black metal gates and stormed past police and security onto the court.

Senior guard Chris McCray, who missed the previous game with an injured left ankle and had hardly practiced since Monday, finished with 16 points and sank both free throws with 7.5 seconds left, giving Maryland a 73-68 lead that Boston College would never overcome.

Junior forward Ekene Ibekwe scored a team-high 21 points and had nine rebounds, and Maryland's stingy defense held Boston College to just three field goals in the final 5:09 of the game to pull ahead after being tied at 62.

"It's something real big," Ibekwe said of the win. "We know we can be up there with the big dogs, supposedly. ... We're sitting real nice now."

For Boston College, it was a chance to make an early statement that indeed, the Eagles would raise the level of competition in the ACC. For No. 21-ranked Maryland, it was a chance to upset a Top 10 team and take the first step in proving this year's team is better than last year's.

"We've played OK against the ranked teams, but tonight was important," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "We needed this win because it's a league game, but also to give us the confidence we can play against this level of team."

It was the first time the Eagles had played Maryland since 1990 and only their fourth meeting, but there were underlying relationships that tied the programs together. Williams was head coach at BC from 1982 to 1986, and his assistant, Michael Adams, was a star point guard and team captain for Williams' first three seasons.

And Ibekwe, a native of Carson, Calif., had played in high school against the Eagles' bruiser, Craig Smith of Los Angeles.

Williams said the game carried such weight, though, that he didn't have time to reflect on his ties to Boston College, and Ibekwe was too busy tangling with Smith to reminisce.

Maryland had been concerned about Boston College's strong inside game, which is led by 6-foot-7 forwards Smith and Jared Dudley, two beefy, imposing players each weighing more than 225 pounds.

Dudley played with self-confidence, pointing to himself with both thumbs at one point after making a basket. He and Smith combined for 20 points in the first half.

Their ability to work the ball inside in previous games and draw fouls had been a point of emphasis for Maryland heading into the game, as the Eagles had gone to the free-throw line 90 more times than their opponents.

Smith still finished with a game-high 23 points and 12 rebounds, Dudley had 12 points, but the duo combined to make just one of six free throws. Boston College averaged 26 free-throw attempts per game coming into last night but was only 5-for-15 against the Terps. The Eagles went to the line just twice in the first half.

"Coming from the Big East, they're a banger team," McCray said. "That's something in the ACC we're not really used to. We've got Shelden [Williams of Duke] and Eric Williams [of Wake Forest], but for the most part, the ACC guards are the most explosive. For me to have almost a day off was kind of great."

It wasn't exactly a "day off" for McCray.

Maryland had a 63-62 lead with 4:41 remaining when he stole the ball and heaved it across the court to junior guard D.J. Strawberry, who drove in for an uncontested layup and the 65-62 lead. Later, with 1:49 left to play, McCray completed a three-point play that put Maryland ahead 68-64. McCray finished with five assists, and he was 7-for-8 from the free-throw line.

"He played 38 minutes, that's what amazed me, that he could be out there that long with that level of play," Williams said. "It was pretty intense out there every possession."

Maryland countered with its own inside game, as senior forward Travis Garrison and Ibekwe combined for 10 of the Terps' first 12 points in the second half. Their efforts pulled the Terps ahead 47-44 with 12:14 left to play.

"Instead of going out of control, we executed our offense," Garrison said. "We contained them on defense, not really letting them to the free-throw line as much as they were in previous games. I think we did a very good job on defense."

And Williams said they have a chance to be better.

"At 7-2 we have a chance to have a very good season," he said. "We have a Top 10 win. Those things are important for our senior class to really get some positive things this last year."

If nothing else, they're off to a good start.

heather.dinich@baltsun.com

American @No. 21 Maryland Dec. 23, 8 p.m., Comcast SportsNet, 1300 AM, 105.7 FM

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