Jordan Williams (16 points) and Dino Gregory (11 points) celebrate… (Getty Images )
GREENSBORO, N.C. — — Before the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, Maryland coach Gary Williams said he hoped his team could win the opener and create a "snowball effect."
The Terps assembled the first few flakes of their hoped-for March snowball Thursday night, beating North Carolina State, 75-67, behind Jordan Williams' 16 points.
Maryland (19-13) now gets a third chance against Duke (27-4) in the quarterfinals Friday night. The Blue Devils defeated the Terps twice in the regular season. Duke's assistant coaches scouted Thursday night's game.
"The positive thing is we won, and believe me, that's important," Gary Williams said. "And now we feel good in preparation."
But it will be a hasty preparation against a second-seeded Duke team that had a first-round bye. "You have a short window. This is a long night for the coaches," Gary Williams said.
Maryland built a 17-point first-half lead behind Williams, who had scored 26 points against the Wolfpack in an 87-80 Maryland win last month.
The Wolfpack again had no answer for Williams on Thursday night. N.C. State senior Tracy Smith, playing on a sore knee, struggled to guard Williams and Dino Gregory. So did other defenders.
"Coach said to get the ball in to him," said Maryland guard Terrell Stoglin, whose nine points included two big free throws with the Terps clinging to a six-point lead with 25 seconds to play. "Any big man they had [guarding Williams] was a mismatch" in the Maryland player's favor, Stoglin said.
Seventh-seeded Maryland was trying to avoid its first four-game losing streak since the 2004-05 season. Its late-season problems probably mean the Terps need to win the tournament to secure its third straight NCAA tournament berth.
Maryland won largely with defense. Gary Williams had been dissatisfied with his team's defensive efforts in the regular season's final two games, but said the players performed more energetically Thursday night.
Maryland held the Wolfpack to 33.8 percent shooting. That was an important statistic because N.C. State — thanks largely to 19 offensive rebounds — had 80 field-goal attempts compared with Maryland's 58. The Terps have been hurt by offensive rebounds in recent games and will be wary of them against Duke, which is third in the ACC in rebounding margin.
"Our shot selection was kind of messed up," Smith said. "We had a couple of turnovers that were key in the game, and they really hurt us."
The Wolfpack threatened in the final two minutes. Baskets by and Smith and Scott Wood cut Maryland's lead to 70-63, and N.C. State forced a turnover with 1:18 left. But N.C. State could get no closer than six, and the Terps sealed the game on three foul shots by Pe'Shon Howard and two by Stoglin in the last minute.
"I told [Pe'Shon], 'We need those free throws,' " Stoglin said. "I knew I was going to make mine."
Maryland hadn't lost in the first round of the ACC tournament since 2008. The Terps lost their opener last season, but that was in the second round after they had earned a first-round bye.
N.C. State's athletic director, Debbie Yow, attended the game. She was Maryland's AD for 16 years, and her relationship with Gary Williams was marked by distrust. Yow will decide after the season whether to retain Wolfpack coach Sidney Lowe, who is in his fifth season. The Wolfpack, which have sometimes started three freshmen, are 15-16.
Maryland, which has often started games slowly this season, bolted to a 10-2 lead.
"We wanted to show them that we had more energy right off the bat," Jordan Williams said.
A good start was especially needed, the player said, because the Terps wanted to quiet the many N.C. State fans in the announced crowd of 23,381. "They kind of had a home crowd tonight, I believe," he said.
The Terps built the advantage to 31-14 on a tip-in by sophomore forward James Padgett, who scored six points, all in the first half. Maryland led, 42-33, at the half despite getting only two points from Stoglin, who had scored in double digits in seven of the previous eight games.
Smith, N.C. State's leading scorer, entered the game having scored in double figures in 17 of 20 games he played. But he did not start, and his sore knee limited him against the Terps. He had 14 points and eight rebounds. Maryland opened the game with freshman forward Haukur Palsson getting only his second career start. Senior Cliff Tucker and junior co-captain Sean Mosley began the game on the bench. Palsson quickly hit his first two shots.