- The Washington Times - Monday, March 8, 2004

It wasn’t pretty, but it might be enough.

Maryland likely clinched an NCAA tournament appearance last night with a 70-61 win over Virginia at Comcast Center. The Terrapins needed an impressive second-half comeback after falling behind by 11, using their pressure defense and cold shooting by the Cavaliers to rally. The result should be the Terps’ 11th-consecutive NCAA tournament appearance.

Chris McCray led the Terps with a career-high 20 points, while senior center Jamar Smith finished with 10 points and 12 rebounds in his final home game.

“We deserve to be in the tournament,” said Smith, whose team had 24 offensive rebounds to offset 32.4 percent shooting from the floor. “We have enough quality wins. We won at [16th-ranked] N.C. State. We should be in.”

Maryland (16-11, 7-9 ACC) will be the sixth seed in the ACC tournament and will play third-seeded Wake Forest on Friday night in a quarterfinal.

The Terps reached seven ACC wins, the number coach Gary Williams felt Maryland needed considering the league is rated as the nation’s best.

“I’m really proud of these guys because they didn’t stop, they kept trying,” said Williams, who was jumping up and down in celebration after the final buzzer. “I thought our defense in the second half tonight was exceptional.”

Maryland won its second straight conference game for just the second time this season. The Terps had lost three straight and put their NCAA hopes in peril before upsetting the Wolfpack 70-69 on Wednesday, and last night’s victory, plus their nonconference wins over Wisconsin and Florida, leave them in decent shape.

The Terps’ win, meanwhile, may have eliminated the Cavaliers from NCAA consideration. Virginia (16-11, 6-10 ACC) made an impressive run at a bid by winning four of its previous five, including three over ranked opponents, but the Cavaliers’ weak nonconference schedule and 1-7 record in ACC road games likely has them headed toward the NIT for a third consecutive season.

The loss also dropped the Cavaliers into a seventh-place tie with Florida State in the ACC. The Seminoles hold the tiebreaker, meaning Virginia will face ninth-seeded Clemson in the first round of the conference tournament Thursday in Greensboro, N.C.

A fastbreak layup by J.R. Reynolds gave the Cavaliers a 38-27 lead just after halftime and caused Williams to call a timeout. The Terps then fed off their defensive pressure to score eight straight points to start a 23-6 run. McCray started the stretch with a baseline jumper.

“To get down by 11 against a team that is really hot right now and come back is a great win,” Williams said. “Our pressure, sometimes whether you get steals or not can change the tempo of the game. And I think it did that. In the second half, we had nothing to lose down 11 because when you trap Virginia you open up some people like [Devin] Smith and [Todd] Billet, who can really shoot the three.”

Not last night, however. Billet missed all 10 of his 3s, while Virginia made just three of 21 and shot 33.9 percent from the floor overall.

The Terps made enough free throws down the stretch and used a late 7-0 run for the victory. Jamar Smith made a free throw to make it 58-57 with 4:06 left, and John Gilchrist followed with two of his own after corralling an offensive rebound when Smith missed the second foul shot. A layup by D.J. Strawberry and two free throws from McCray gave Maryland a 64-57 lead.

Virginia cut Maryland’s lead to 64-61 with 39 seconds left on two free throws from Elton Brown (16 points), but Jamar Smith made one of two free throws. He missed the second, but the rebound came right back to him. McCray then made a pair of free throws to preserve the win.

The Terps managed to get Smith, who missed all five of his shots in the first half, going after halftime. The senior center’s dunk off a Nik Caner-Medley entry pass cut Virginia’s lead to 42-40 with 11:57 left. McCray tied the game on a breakaway layup after making a steal near halfcourt.

Strawberry gave Maryland a 44-42 lead with an off-balance shot deep in the lane. After Brown’s putback tied the game, the Terps scored eight straight. Smith’s follow gave Maryland the lead. Strawberry wrestled the ball away from Gary Forbes at midcourt to set up McCray’s layup.

McCray’s jumper in the lane made it 50-44, and the shooting guard added a 15-foot jumper to make it 52-44 with 7:28 left. The Cavaliers rallied with their own 13-5 run, tying the game at 57-57 on Brown’s inside basket.

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