- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 15, 2009

Maryland’s recent history is littered with blown leads. Virginia Tech feasted in close games in the first half of the ACC season.

The Terrapins didn’t permit either scenario to repeat Saturday at Comcast Center.

In need of a critical victory after nearly a week off, Maryland delivered arguably its best performance since Thanksgiving with an 83-73 defeat of Virginia Tech.

Landon Milbourne scored 23 points and Greivis Vasquez added 17 for the Terps (16-8, 5-5), who were decked out in their alternate gold uniforms for the second straight home game.

“I thought that was probably as well we’ve played with a lead all year,” coach Gary Williams said. “We didn’t make many mistakes.”

It was precisely what the Terps needed after yet another tense week in College Park. With fans decked out in Valentine’s Day-themed T-shirts professing adulation for Williams and others pinning “In Gary We Trust” buttons to their shirts, Maryland paid off the faith by shutting down the Hokies’ best players.

A.D. Vassallo scored 20 points for the Hokies (16-8, 6-4); Malcolm Delaney (16) and Jeff Allen (eight) struggled for much of the day. Delaney’s best moments came in the final minutes, but by then Maryland had put things out of reach. There would be no repeat of last month’s losses to Boston College, Miami and Morgan State, and no wrenching conclusion like the one at Florida State.

Instead, Maryland simply handled things efficiently, right down to the 22-for-23 effort at the foul line in the second half.

“It was very encouraging,” said guard Adrian Bowie, who returned to the starting lineup after playing sparingly because of the flu in the Terps’ last game. “We had so many leads in games that we just let slip away. Just to actually have one go our way felt real good.”

It was a vital moment in the season for the Terps, whose last six games are especially daunting. Four ranked opponents remain, and Maryland could ill afford to fall on its home court to a comparable opponent.

Of course, the Hokies have a way of spoiling such moments. They swept two games from the Terps at crucial moments last season, including one that precipitated a late-season slide from NCAA tournament contention.

The Hokies also have a habit of pulling out close games, and their past eight league games were all decided by single digits. The streak looked certain to be extended for nearly 30 minutes, especially after Virginia Tech closed within 48-45 on a 3-pointer by Vassallo. But Eric Hayes connected on a 3-pointer the next time down the court, and Maryland maintained matters from there.

“We’re going to get some leads, but we’re going to have to be able to hold them,” forward Dave Neal said. “People say we’re young, but I think we showed we’re a pretty mature team by being able to stay in that lead the whole game.”

A Milbourne dunk off a slick Cliff Tucker pass bumped the lead back to double digits with a little more than five minutes left, and the Hokies never entirely recovered as Maryland steadily deposited its free throws in the closing moments. The Terps only connected on one more field goal after Milbourne’s jam, but they had already done plenty to shred the Virginia Tech defense.

“We had no flow offensively,” Hokies coach Seth Greenberg said. “We had no commitment to getting stops. They out-toughed us. They had a greater sense of urgency, and that’s my fault. I take full responsibility. I’m sure practice Monday will be more spirited.”

As for the Terps, the victory certainly alleviates some concerns entering a difficult stretch that could determine how their March will look.

Maryland’s next three games are against Clemson, North Carolina and Duke. But for now, Maryland is all square in the league, and its window for making a push for the postseason - though not necessarily huge - is bigger than it was just a few weeks ago.

“We’ve grown over these last couple games,” Milbourne said. “We had a tough game down at Georgia Tech, and we could have went out of there with a loss, but we stayed tough and got a win. We learned from our mistakes and had a couple turnovers at the end of that game. We came back and tried to keep it real tight and play tough and take care of the ball, and I think we did that.”

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