- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 4, 2004

RALEIGH, N.C. — This was the Maryland Terrapins basketball team many expected to see all season.

Center Jamar Smith used his versatility and quickness to frustrate a less mobile big man. Point guard John Gilchrist quarterbacked an uptempo attack and led the way with his contagious fiery passion. Shooting guard Chris McCray set the tone at the beginning of the game with a strong offensive performance.

The team coach Gary Williams had been waiting for finally showed up Wednesday night — perhaps just in time to salvage a troublesome season and return the Terps to the NCAA tournament for an 11th consecutive season.

“I am really happy for this team,” Williams said after the Terps surprised 16th-ranked N.C. State 70-69. “This has been a very intense year for me. With some teams, you can assume certain things are going to happen. You can’t assume anything is going to happen with this team. You have to be consistent with your coaching every day, going over everything. I have learned a lot this year as a basketball coach, so it’s been good.”

Maryland (15-11, 6-9) likely will need to beat Virginia on Sunday in the regular-season finale at Comcast Center to earn an NCAA tournament bid. After seemingly eliminating themselves by losing four of their previous five and seven straight to ranked opponents, the Terps are happily still on the bubble.

“I think seven [conference] wins are necessary,” Williams said of the standard for making the NCAAs. “I think with the RPI [35th before the N.C. State win] and the strength of schedule [fourth nationally], if we do get to seven wins I don’t see how that couldn’t be good enough.”

Maryland is in a three-way tie for sixth in the league with Virginia and Florida State. The loser of Sunday’s game not only will be pointed toward the NIT but could slip into the ACC tournament’s play-in game.

The young Terps showed the guile of a veteran group while taming the Wolfpack. After building an early 17-point lead, they weathered an impressive comeback and even briefly trailed before making key stops and essential free throws down the stretch.

Smith, who was benched for inept play during the final 19 minutes of Saturday’s loss to No.11 Wake Forest, responded with 16 points, eight rebounds, four steals and three assists. He started off with an 8-foot turnaround in the lane for the game’s first points and was the main reason Maryland outscored N.C. State 24-12 in the paint.

“I feel very few people can stop me inside because I am a lot quicker than everybody,” said Smith, who is the team’s only senior. “I wanted the ball. … There was a lot of pressure, but now everything is fine,”

The 6-foot-8 Smith was effective running in transition. He set up a go-ahead basket on a steal and outlet pass to Gilchrist, whose dunk gave the Terps a 64-62 lead with 4:43 remaining. Maryland pushed the lead to four after another steal by Smith and backcourt pass to Gilchrist, who finished with a fastbreak layup. Smith made two of four free throws in the final 17 seconds, including one of two with four seconds left to make it 70-66.

“We knew coming in that we were going to ride him,” said Gilchrist, who scored a team-high 21 points. “Everything good we have had so far this season, we had to ride him. And that’s what happened.”

Smith also was disruptive as a part of Maryland’s pressure defense, which had 15 steals and forced 19 turnovers. The Terps scored 22 points off turnovers compared to seven for N.C. State. McCray made his first three shots, finishing with a 3-pointer from the left wing to give Maryland an 11-2 lead and forcing N.C. State to call time out. Gilchrist, who did not start as punishment for being late to a team breakfast, took control after that by scoring, tipping balls free on defense and pushing the fastbreak.

Maryland shot 51.7 percent — including five of eight 3-pointers — in the first half. The Terps broke out to a 40-23 lead on a 3-pointer by Mike Jones, who provided a spark off the bench with eight points.

Virginia (16-10, 6-9) comes to College Park having won four of its past five to make an unlikely NCAA tournament run. The Cavaliers beat No.19 Georgia Tech, No.14 North Carolina and Wake Forest at home during that stretch. However, the Cavaliers are 1-7 in ACC road games.

Meanwhile, Maryland is 3-4 in conference games at Comcast Center.

“We should have won games at home that we didn’t win,” Smith said. “But now we won in a tough place. We just have to go home on Sunday and get another win. … I know we can get into the [NCAA] tournament.”

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