COLLEGE PARK -- With 2:38 left to play, Maryland junior forward James Gist showed off his school-record 36-inch vertical leap and slammed in an uncontested dunk with both hands and an equally monstrous roar.
It was the finale to his career-high 25-point performance on 10-for-11 shooting from the field, leading Maryland to an 80-65 win over Georgia Tech last night at Comcast Center.
Gist, who was averaging 11.5 points, was his own inside-out combination last night, soaring over the Yellow Jackets for dunks and blocks, and even adding a three-pointer. Freshman point guard Eric Hayes came off the bench and found Gist for the assist, wherever he was.
Even with more than half of the Atlantic Coast Conference schedule remaining, Maryland had put itself in a position that suddenly made last night's game a little more significant.
This was exactly what Maryland needed - a convincing home win that rejuvenated those within the program and inflated the Terps' chances of turning around its 1-4 start in the Atlantic Coast Conference - the worst since the 1992-93 season. Maryland (16-5, 2-4) now has some confidence heading into back-to-back road games, beginning Tuesday at Florida State.
Maryland coach Gary Williams said the turnaround, though, began in the visiting locker room on the road after an overtime loss at Virginia Tech.
Georgia Tech has now lost 13 straight road games to ACC opponents and four straight to the Terps. Maryland has lost only once this season at Comcast Center - a 63-58 defeat to Miami that still baffles Williams.
Maryland's defense, combined with Georgia Tech's poor free-throw shooting, made a significant difference. The Yellow Jackets had entered last night's game shooting 39.3 percent from three-point range, but made just one of 17. Freshman standouts Javaris Crittenton and Thaddeus Young - both shooting over 41percent from beyond the arc, combined to make just one of six. The Yellow Jackets struggled from the free-throw line, making just six of 16 shots.
And the Terps were finally having some fun.
With just more than 10 minutes to play, Bambale Osby made a one-handed dunk he followed with a goofy, wide-eyed sort of dance that had Mike Jones smiling all the way down the court.
Gist picked up his third foul less than a minute into the second half and immediately took a seat on the bench. It was Gist's play in the first half, though, that seemed to spark the team.
Gist was two points shy of his previous career high at halftime, as he was 6-for-6 from the field for 16 points in 12 minutes.
Nine of the Yellow Jackets' 13 first-half turnovers came in the opening 11 minutes. They were flustered by the Terps' press and constant double-teaming. Five players had at least one steal, and Maryland scored 10 of its points off turnovers in the first half.
There have been times this season when Maryland's inside players have struggled to finish plays under the basket, and the Terps had been out-rebounded in their past three league losses. That changed last night, though, as Maryland had the edge in rebounds and second-chance points, and outscored Georgia Tech in the paint 22-20 in the first half.
Gist set the tempo early by drawing back-to-back three-point opportunities, the second of which he capitalized on and gave the Terps a 7-4 lead they wouldn't relinquish. It wasn't until later in the half, though, that Maryland pulled away to a comfortable gap.
Maryland led 17013 around the 100 minute mark but outscored Georgia Tech 22-6 in the next six minutes to take a commanding 39-19 lead with 4:17 left to play. It was the Terps' largest lead of the half. Gist scored seven of his 16 first-half points during that run, including on a play in which he soared over sophomore D'Andre Bell for a dunk and was fouled in midair. He dunked again less than a minute later off a crisp pass from Hayes to cap the run.
Maryland led 43-26 at the half.