- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 25, 2004

The game wasn’t pretty. In fact, it was downright unsightly at times. But to the Maryland Terrapins, it was a thing of beauty.

Maryland kept its NCAA tournament hopes alive with a 70-49 win over Clemson last night before a less-than-capacity crowd at Comcast Center. The Terps broke a three-game losing streak and now can focus on what could be their most important game of the regular season when they play host to 11th-ranked Wake Forest on Saturday.

“Now we put ourselves in a position to go play Wake,” Maryland coach Gary Williams said. “You hear about losing those three games. … We are going to lose games. You can’t understand it, why our record is what is. Nobody likes it. But we are a good team.”

The Terps, who improved to 5-8 in the league and 14-10 overall, likely must beat the Demon Deacons and win one of their final two games — at 14th-ranked N.C. State and against Virginia at home — to get a berth. Last night’s victory also was important because the seventh-place Terps are trying to avoid playing in the first round of the ACC tournament. Maryland remains a half-game ahead of eighth-place Virginia, which upset North Carolina last night.

“We needed it,” said point guard John Gilchrist, who finished with a game-high 19 points, six assists and five steals. “I don’t really keep track anymore about all the necessary qualifications for us to go to the tournament. I could care less. … I just want us to win.”

Maryland extended its lead with a 19-2 run early in the first half and held on despite some shoddy play before pulling away at the end. Clemson (10-15, 3-11) showed why it is the worst team in the ACC with its inability to handle Maryland’s pressure, ghastly ballhandling and porous defense.

The Tigers made two of their first 19 shots and turned the ball over 10 times as Maryland built a 24-7 advantage. Clemson is 0-10 away from its homecourt after committing 22 turnovers and shooting 31.9 percent against the Terps. Meanwhile, Maryland shot 51.9 percent, often forcing turnovers and scoring on fastbreaks.

The Terps’ D.J. Strawberry, who started at shooting guard in place of Chris McCray, had 15 points on 7-for-9 shooting. McCray came off the bench with newfound aggression and finished with 14 points. He attacked the basket on a regular basis. He even had an emphatic slam after slashing through the middle of the lane.

McCray was disciplined at the start for his heated confrontation with coaches on the bench during Sunday’s 23-point loss to Duke. The sophomore sat out the final 16 minutes of that contest and was called in for a meeting with the coaches before practice Monday.

“I knew something was going to happen,” said McCray, who made six of eight shots. “I kind of reacted wrong. I kind of lost my place out there. I knew something was going to happen. I am just glad he didn’t suspend me. We just sat down and talked about it.

“Sometimes that’s what it takes. It’s time for me to start helping on offense. Coach told me to be aggressive but not force it. That’s what I did.”

The Terps led 32-21 at halftime, but Clemson stayed within striking range early in the second half as Maryland’s offense struggled. The Tigers cut the deficit to 37-29 with 15:13 left on a layup by Sharrod Ford. Later, Ford’s two free throws cut Maryland’s lead to 53-44 with 6:25 remaining.

Maryland the put the game away with a 12-0 run. Ekene Ibekwe’s two free throws started the stretch. Gilchrist followed that up with a 3-pointer from the right corner. Strawberry’s high-flying tip-in made it 63-44, and Ibekwe (10 rebounds) closed the run with another pair of free throws to push the advantage to 21.

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