WINSTON - SALEM , N.C . There were enough reasonsMaryland needed to leave Wake Forest with a win last night, but the overriding benefit, coach Gary Williams said, was confidence ? something that had begun to waver during a season that started with a swagger.
Despite a 23-point lead that evaporated in the second half last night, Maryland remained resolute and hung on for a 79-72 win before 13,089 in Lawrence Joel Coliseum last night.
It meant the difference between flying home with a 2-6 league record or amore respectable 3-5. It meant the first conference road win of the season, and a step in the right direction heading into Tuesday?s home game vs. Virginia.
?In our situation you?re looking for confidence,? said Williams, who became the the third coach in Atlantic Coast Conference history to record 150 victories in conference play. ?That?s probably the biggest benefit of this win tonight, is giving us confidence again.?
James Gist led the Terps with 17 points, and Ekene Ibekwe added 16 for Maryland (17-6), which shot 52.8 percent from the field.
Losing three of its past four games heading into last night might have caused some to question the direction Maryland was headed this season, and it wasn?t even clear in the waning minutes of the game. Wake Forest (10-12, 2-8) got within seven three times during the final stretch, butMaryland?s defense?which had been an emphasis at practice all week ? managed to keep the Demon Deacons at bay just long enough.
D.J. Strawberry got the last word, as his two free throws with seven seconds left put it out of reach.
?You can?t let it be relief,? Williams said. ?You can?t come down from the way we feel right now. We have to move this right into Tuesday night [vs. Virginia] now and stay tough. There?s not time to relax, enjoy. We have to be a tough team and do what we have to do in these next few days.?
The win also made Williams joined former North Carolina coach Dean Smith and Duke?s Mike Krzyzewski with 150 regularseason ACC victories.
Ibekwe became the 44th Terp and the second this season?the other was Mike Jones, who passed the mark on Jan. 30 against Florida State ? to score 1,000 career points.
The Terps used a 15-3 run in the second half to take a 55-32 lead with just under 13 minutes left to play, but the energy shifted when Gist was charged with a technical foul at the 10-minute mark. He appeared to be pointing both index fingers at David Weaver, whomhe beat for a dunk.
The 23-point lead quickly shrank to seven, and Michael Drum, who made both free throws on the technical, scored 10 points in an 11-0 run that closed the gap to 57-49 with 8:18 left to play.
Drum and Kyle Visser scored 16 points each to leadWake Forest. ?This was a real important win for us, especially getting our first road win the ACC,? said Gist. ?Wake Forest played real tough in the second half, but we came out and got it.?
Before the game, the Terps had reached a point where the players? confidence had started to waiver, and frankly nobody within the program ? not even Williams? knewwhat to expect.
Just as there has been nothing determined yet about the fate of this team, there was also nothing definitive about the first half.
Maryland took a 9-8 lead at the 13:33 mark and didn?t relinquish it for the remainder of the period.
Maryland had increased its lead to 10 points three times in the first half, but it never lasted long. The Terps led 16-14 with just under 10 minutes remaining when Gist and Ibekwe combined to score all of Maryland?s points in an 8-0 run that opened a 24-14 bulgewith 6:07 left in the half.
A dunk by Bambale Osby put Maryland ahead 32-22 with 45 seconds left, but sophomore Kevin Swinton made a layup 21 seconds later to cut it to 32-24. Terps senior Jones?whose own play has been a reflection of the team?s hot-cold spurts ? re-entered the game for the last shot of the half, but it clanked off the rim. Both Jones and Vasquez were scoreless in the first half, going 0-for-4.
Maryland made just two of its first nine shots and was 0-for-3 through the first 6:30 until the Terps scored seven unanswered points for a 14-8 lead at the 12-minute mark. By that point, Wake had only attempted two two-point baskets.