- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 4, 2004

RALEIGH, N.C. — Don’t write Maryland’s basketball obituary, because the Terrapins aren’t dead yet.

The Terps resurrected their season and NCAA tournament hopes with a thrilling 70-69 upset of 16th-ranked N.C. State last night before a hostile crowd of 17,243 at RBC Center. Maryland uncharacteristically broke out to a huge lead, weathered a ferocious comeback and made the key plays near the end.

With the victory, Maryland likely needs to at least win Sunday’s regular-season finale with Virginia at Comcast Center to earn an NCAA tournament berth for an 11th consecutive season.

“It keeps us alive,” said point guard John Gilchrist, who had a team-high 21 points and led an aggressive transition attack. “We live to fight another day.”

Jamar Smith, who was benched for poor play in Saturday’s loss to Wake Forest, responded with 16 points, eight rebounds and four steals and made the game-winning free throw with 4.5 seconds left. Maryland outscored N.C. State 28-14 in the paint and 22-7 off turnovers as the Terps made 15 steals and forced 19 turnovers.

However, it wasn’t until Smith made one of two free throws to give the Terps a 70-66 lead with under :05 to play that the victory was secure. N.C. State’s Julius Hodge (game-high 27 points) hit a meaningless 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Despite the Terps’ 10 straight NCAA tournament appearance and their 2002 national championship, their postseason was in serious jeopardy after losing four of their last five overall and seven straight to ranked opponents before last night.

“It was great to get off to a good start,” said coach Gary Williams, whose team has a tendency to fall behind early, come back and eventually lose.

The Terps led 40-23 in the first half and by 10 at halftime.

“We got a big enough lead where if you look at it for 40 minutes, that is probably what won the game for us, to get that lead and make them work hard to come back instead of us having to work hard to come back,” Williams said. “Then at the end, we had something left.”

The Terps (15-11, 6-9 ACC) are in a three-way tie for sixth in the league with Florida State and Virginia. N.C. State (18-8, 10-5) lost its second straight — both at home after winning its first 15 games at RBC. Maryland limited N.C. State to nine of 14 3-point shooting and held the Wolfpack to four offensive rebounds.

Maryland overcame spectacular performances from Julius Hodge (27 points) and Marcus Melvin (22 points) to pull out the win. State erased Maryland’s 17-point lead early in the second half but couldn’t complete the comeback.

Smith made two of four free throws in the final 18 seconds to give Maryland a 70-66 lead. N.C. State had several chances to tie late in the game, but Melvin missed an open jumper with the Terps’ lead at two. The senior center also missed a clean look on a 3-pointer that would have tied the game with less than five seconds left.

Smith had taken control of the game early from the inside, and it was fitting he would make the winning free throws.

“He had pressure on him today,” said Williams, who watched Smith record no points or rebounds in eight minutes during the loss to the Demon Deacons. “He felt that everybody was blaming him for the fact that we didn’t win our last game or whatever. He’s our only senior. I told him after the game that you have to take that stuff, because there are usually four or five seniors that are around. He had to take it all this year. He was fine.”

The Terps broke a 62-62 tie with six straight points, largely off pressure defense. Gilchrist caused a turnover before finishing with a fastbreak slam to give the Terps the lead with 4:44 left. After Gilchrist slapped the ball away from Hodge late in the shot clock, Smith’s outlet set up Gilchrist’s layup. Gilchrist added two free throws with 2:07 left to make it 68-62 with 2:17 remaining.

However, Hodge answered with a field goal and after a Gilchrist missed a 3-pointer, Melvin cut the lead to 68-66 with two free throws with 1:19 left. Melvin missed an open jumper that would have tied the game. After Smith made 1 of 2 foul shots to make it 69-66, Melvin missed a good look at a 3-pointer with :04 left. Smith was fouled and gave Maryland its slim margin of victory.

Smith broke a 56-56 tie as he drove the baseline and finished with a reverse layup. After a free throw by D.J. Strawberry pushed the lead to three, Cameron Bennerman made two free throws to cut it to 59-58. Melvin gave N.C. State a one-point lead on a mid-range jumper. Strawberry then gave Maryland a 62-60 lead with 9:05 left on a 3-point play off an off-balance shot in the lane. Hodge tied the game on a pair of free throws.

N.C. State opened the second half on a 18-6 run, finishing with 11 straight points. The Wolfpack took its first lead since early in the first half on Ilian Evtimov’s 3-pointer to make it 52-50. The game went back and forth from there. Nik Caner-Medley’s 3-pointer from the right side gave Maryland a one-point edge with 13:38 left.

After Hodge’s baseline runner gave the Pack a 54-53 lead, Caner-Medley got lucky as he got the ball down low, bobbled it and somehow pushed it in while getting fouled. The 3-point play gave Maryland a two-point lead.

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