- The Washington Times - Monday, December 20, 2004

An ACC opener felt like a late-season drama. Maryland lost two frontcourt players to fouls, fell behind by four points in overtime and needed three players off the bench to make the big plays needed to win.

Just 15 more conference games to go.

No. 23 Maryland outlasted Florida State 90-88 in overtime last night before 17,950 at Comcast Center. A playoff atmosphere with defensive chess matches, big outside shots, pressure free throws and unlikely heroes made the fourth-earliest ACC opener in coach Gary Williams’ 16 seasons seem more like March Madness.

“That’s ACC basketball — you’re down, but never out,” said Terrapins guard John Gilchrist.

Gilchrist’s two free throws with 6.6 seconds remaining gave Maryland (6-2, 1-0) the final margin of victory. However, it still came down to the last shot as Florida State guard Von Wafer’s potential game-winning 3-pointer skipped across the rim as time expired. On a night when every possession was part of a seamless layer of action, Maryland avoided an upset loss while gaining confidence.

“Every year you have to get a quality win early to believe in yourself,” Williams said.

Gilchrist led six Terps in double figures with 21 points and had a career-high 13 rebounds and eight assists. Maryland also received valuable contributions from reserves forward James Gist (11 points, seven rebounds, four blocks), center Will Bowers (five rebounds, two blocks) and guard Mike Jones, whose 3-pointer gave Maryland an 88-86 lead with 46.8 seconds remaining. Guard D.J. Strawberry hit three of six free throws in overtime before converting a steal for an 85-84 edge.

“I thought Maryland pushed all the right buttons during the crucial parts of the game,” Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said. “They mixed their defenses up just enough to cause us some indecision and I thought that basically made the difference in the game.”

Indeed, Maryland reshuffled its lineup on both ends as center Ekene Ibekwe (13 points) and forward Travis Garrison (four) were nonfactors in the second half after fouling out long before game’s end. Forward Nik Caner-Medley moved from small to power forward, which created a defensive mismatch that allowed forward Adam Waleskowski to score 23 points with 14 rebounds for the Seminoles (5-5, 0-1). However, Caner-Medley forced Seminoles forward Al Thornton to the foul line instead of making the go-ahead basket and Thornton made one of two free throws to tie the game at 80-80.

Gist delivered four plays in his first minute off the bench early in the first half, including two blocks and a stunning off-balance 5-footer over two defenders. Gist hurt his right elbow with 1:54 left before intermission, but returned in the second half to become the Terps only true big man during some stretches.

“This is what I signed up for,” he said. “I came ready to play with more games coming.”

Bowers’ play was even more stunning. He blocked two shots and had three rebounds plus a basket during one early stretch that produced a standing ovation. The seldom-used center steadily has increased his minutes as Williams seeks a big man who can spell Ibekwe when Maryland regularly faces top conference frontcourts next month.

And fans have long waited for Jones to deliver a game-breaker since arriving two seasons ago as a prep phenom with a long-distance shot. It was all net when he put the Terps ahead in the final minute on a 20-footer.

“It could be what he needs [to play well] for the rest of the season,” Williams said.

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