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Terps discover correct formula
RALEIGH, N.C. -- Maryland struggled with the most elementary of math problems -- one plus one equals winning streak -- for more than a month.
The Terrapins finally found the right solution last night against N.C. State.
Spurred by D.J. Strawberry's 18 points and significant help from the bench, Maryland pulled away from the undermanned Wolfpack 85-70 to climb within a game of .500 in conference play.
It was not an outing for an instructional video, nor was it as impressive as Sunday's drubbing of Duke. But it didn't matter to Maryland (19-7, 5-6 ACC), which matched its season victory total from last season despite battling foul trouble throughout and sluggishness in the first half.
"The past few weeks, we haven't been able to put two and two together," forward James Gist said. "Right now we're on a little roll, and we just have to keep it up."
Maryland had not won consecutive games since securing five straight nonconference victories leading into ACC play. After dispatching the struggling Wolfpack (13-11, 3-8), the Terps also owned their second straight road victory and multiple ways of looking at their turn of fortune this month.
"It's three out of four, right? Is it half empty or half full? Three out of four," coach Gary Williams said wryly. "We have to keep going from there."
The Terps at times showed symptoms of their inconsistent, schizophrenic personality, permitting the Wolfpack to loiter within a possession or two for the first 25 minutes. Maryland struggled with foul trouble, and Gist, Will Bowers and Ekene Ibekwe all sat for long stretches because of it.
Maryland, though, could call upon reserves to fill in. While the short-handed Wolfpack continued to wear down, Williams sent in fresh bodies to continue to apply pressure.
Both Bambale Osby and Dave Neal played expanded roles. Osby overcame a hard fall near the end of the first half and scored six points in 15 minutes, while Neal collected four points and five rebounds during a 14-minute stint, his longest since the season opener.
"I think we have one of the deepest teams in the ACC, and I really think these last five games it's going to help us," Neal said. "We know some guys' roles is to go in there for two or three minutes, do what you do, get rebounds, play hard and let the starters come back and get that spark again."
It was far from decided at halftime, when the Terps nursed a 39-37 lead after N.C. State's Ben Horner drilled a 3-pointer to prompt a dismissive wave from Williams as he stalked to the locker room. The Wolfpack tied it at 44-44 early in the second half and were within 48-47 after Engin Atsur's 3-pointer with 15:11 remaining.
Maryland scored the next three points, but the next sequence was more important. Atsur missed a 3-pointer, and the Wolfpack's Ben McCauley missed a dunk after the offensive rebound. The Terps then scampered down the floor, and Gist drilled a 3-pointer to make it 54-47 and prompt N.C. State coach Sidney Lowe to call a timeout.
"We were getting close, and we were starting to look pretty good," Lowe said. "You could see the energy and activity. When he missed that one, that's a five-point swing there. ... That certainly was a big play, a huge play in the game."
From there, the Wolfpack faded and grew visibly weary, hardly a surprise for a team that relies heavily on a seven-man rotation and lost guard Courtney Fells to a tailbone injury early in the second half. They never drew closer than six points, and Strawberry's 3-pointer with 8:19 remaining permanently pushed Maryland's lead into double figures.
Strawberry produced one of his best all-around performances in conference play, grabbing a team-high nine rebounds as Maryland broke even in the category for the second straight game. It helped the Terps grind out a victory they might not have secured even a few weeks ago.
Suddenly, the Terps have stabilized their postseason prospects as they head into Sunday's visit to struggling Clemson, and an NCAA berth appears a far greater possibility than just four days ago. That is, after all, the byproduct of the simple formula that yields a winning streak.
"I feel we've only shown flashes of what we can do," Strawberry said. "We're starting to roll right at the right time. If we continue to work hard in practice and continue to grind it out and Coach continues to push us -- because he pushed us harder today than he has in any game. If he continues to push us, then we'll be fine."
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