Saturday, March 13, 2004

Terps Shoot Down Wake, 87-86

Originally posted on "Terp Town" on the network and syndicated to Yahoo

The Maryland Terrapins picked a fine time for their best offensive performance of 2004, making 53% of their shots in the second half and holding on for an exciting 87-86 win over #15/14 Wake Forest (19-9) in a quarterfinal game in the ACC Tournament. John Gilchrist broke a tie by making the game-winning free throw with 3.7 seconds left. Maryland (17-1) will face NC State at 4:00 PM Saturday in the second semifinal contest.

Unlike recent Terrapin games that featured big scoring runs, this one was close throughout. Neither team ever led by more than six points, and the game featured 14 lead changes and 13 ties.

The first half featured the type of shooting we have come to expect in Maryland games this season—not very good. Both teams made just under 41% of their shots but, most importantly for the Terps, the Demon Deacons were not lighting them up from three point range as they had done in their two previous meetings, both Wake Forest victories.

Another important factor that worked in Maryland's favor in the first half was the rebounding. After getting killed on the boards in the first half of the teams' most recent meeting in College Park, the Terps were even in rebounding with the Deacons at halftime. Jamar Smith was again a non-factor, but John Gilchrist and Travis Garrison each pulled down four boards. Gilchrist dished out four assists and Garrison led Maryland scorers with 10 points.

The Deacons played a lot of 2-3 zone defense, but Maryland handled it reasonably well. Instead of Gilchrist running the shot clock down dribbling at the point, the Terps attacked Wake's defense and were aggressive on the boards. They were also picking up the Deacon's guards earlier than in previous games and not giving them much room to shoot threes. After the game, Maryland coach Gary Williams said, “We were fortunate to play good defense on the three-point shooters for the most part.”

With little offensive production inside from Smith or Hassan Fofana, Maryland stayed in the game by making free throws and knocking down three-pointers. That's right, I said the Terrapins made their free throws (10-14) and three-pointers (4-8).

Wake led 34-30 late in the first half and threatened to stretch it out further after a Maryland turnover and foul had Vytas Danelius at the foul line. He missed both, however, and the Terps scored the next three hoops to regain the lead. Fofana scored on a feed from Chris McCray, then McCray got a piece of a Danelius three-pointer and knocked down a jumper at the other end. Garrison scored on a layup in transition to put Maryland ahead 36-34, and a Jamaal Levy driving layup sent the teams into the locker room tied at 36-36.

I wondered if the Terps had not squandered a chance to take control of the game, figuring the Deacons were bound to play better offensively in the second half. Wake did play a lot better, scoring 50 points in the second half. What I did not anticipate was that Maryland would score 51.

The theory that the Terps would come out and play loser after their wins over NC State and Virginia last week held up, particularly after halftime. Maryland played one of their sharpest, most free-flowing halves of basketball of the season in the second half of this game. Williams later said, “I thought we ran the offense really well in the second half.”

The Terps improved on the things they did well in the first half, outrebounding Wake 23-16, making 5-6 three-pointers, and making 14-18 from the foul line. Gilchrist and McCray scored a lot of the points, but Williams said, “We had a lot of guys step up.”

Maryland had taken their largest lead so far, 60-55, when the Deacons struck quickly. Chris Paul, the game's high scorer with 30 points, converted a traditional three-point play and, moments later, made a three-pointer to give Wake a 61-60 lead.

Maryland responded with an 11-4 run to take the largest lead of the game, 71-65. Four Terps scored during this stretch that Gilchrist started with a three and Garrison ended by following a Smith miss. Levy and Paul combined for Wake's next 13 points, nine by Levy, while Maryland cooled off and drew the Deacons within 79-78 with less than five minutes to play.

The Terps were pounding the ball into Smith relentlessly, and he continued to struggle converting opportunities into hoops. Smith finished 5-15 from the floor but did score back-to-back baskets on a dipsy-doo reverse layup and a turnaround jumper. As has been his recent trend, Jamar Smith saved his best for when his team needed it the most.

Nik Caner-Medley put Maryland ahead 82-78 with a three-pointer from the corner with 4:10 to play. This would be the Terps final hoop of the game. Justin Gray responded with a three of his own to pull the Deacons back within one, but Wake would miss their next four shots. During that stretch, Garrison and McCray both went 2-2 from the foul line to give Maryland an 86-81 lead.

Chris Paul made a three-pointer with 42.9 seconds left to cut the Terps' lead to two, then forced a turnover that he converted into points with two free throws to tie the game with 20 seconds to play. After Maryland called its last timeout, Gilchrist put a spin move on the Deacons' Taron Downey and drew a foul with 3.7 seconds left. Gilchrist made the first and front-rimmed the second, but tipped the rebound and kept the ball alive long enough to prevent Wake Forest from setting up for a final shot.

Gilchrist and Garrison led the Terps with 16 points each, McCray and Caner-Medley added 13, and Smith scored 11 points. Garrison's game-high ten rebounds gave him his first career double-double. Gilchrist made all four of his three-point attempts and handed out six assists. To emphasize Gary Williams' point about several players stepping up; five different Maryland players had at least five rebounds, five different players had a steal, and seven individuals blocked a shot.

The Terps' balanced effort was enough to overcome Chris Paul's 20 second half points. Levy's late burst gave him a total of 18 points for the game. Justin Gray scored 14 for the Deacons but made only 5-14 shots. Wake was 9-23 from three-point range, not bad but not good enough on this night.

After the game, Gilchrist said, “We are coming together as a team with our experience now.” Tonight, Maryland played like they had it together. They looked like a team that wants to keep playing basketball for a while. Efforts like this one could make that happen.

Notes from Under the Shell
There was a bizarre incident behind the Maryland bench early in the second half. According to reports, a fan had carried a gun into the arena and accidentally shot himself. He was treated and taken into custody. “My first thought,” Gary Williams said later, “was let's get out of here because you didn't know what it was.”

Williams added, “The ref's did a great job at keeping it away from the game.” Yes folks, on the same night Maryland made 24-32 free throws Gary Williams compliments the referees. Was there a full moon out tonight?

Today was the first time since the very first ACC Tournament in 1954 that two games were decided by one point in the quarterfinals. Georgia Tech defeated North Carolina 83-82 on a last second shot by Jarrett Jack.

This will be Maryland's 11 th trip to the ACC Semifinals in the last 13 years. They have lost 11 of the 12 previous semi-final games.

Tonight was the first time the Terps have defeated a higher-seeded team in the ACC Tournament since they were #5 in 1997 and defeated #4 Clemson 76-61.

This is Maryland's lowest seed (#6) since 1993. The last time (not counting the dreaded play-in game) that the Terps won a game from the bottom half of the bracket was in 1989, when they finished eighth and defeated #1 NC State 71-49.


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