- The Washington Times - Monday, March 8, 2004

What a difference a week makes.

The Maryland Terrapins were reeling after a home loss to Wake Forest, facing the possibility of becoming the first Terps team to miss the NCAA tournament since 1993.

Heading into a game against No.16 N.C. State on Wednesday, the Terps had lost seven straight against ranked opponents and four of their last five games overall. Maryland was struggling with its confidence, and the season was slipping away.

“We were at a low point,” point guard John Gilchrist said. “We were vulnerable. It showed the character of the team that we came back and made this happen.”

Maryland upset the Wolfpack, then came home and likely locked up an NCAA berth with Sunday’s 70-61 win over Virginia. After the final buzzer, Terps coach Gary Williams leaped up and threw his fist in the air in celebration to the delight of the frenzied crowd.

Shooting guard Chris McCray embraced Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti on the court as students flooded the floor at Comcast Center. The faithful even broke into a chorus of “Happy Birthday” for Williams, who turned 59 last week.

“When you don’t always see signs of hard work, it is tough to come back into the gym and do the same thing over again,” Williams said after Maryland erased an 11-point second-half deficit and all but ended Virginia’s NCAA chances. “I felt really good because we worked hard.”

The Terps (16-11, 7-9 ACC) finished sixth in the ACC and will face third-place and 15th-ranked Wake Forest, which swept the Terps in the regular season, in Friday’s ACC quarterfinals at Greensboro (N.C.) Coliseum.

Maryland beat the Cavaliers with defense and rebounding. The Terps shot 34.3 percent and made only four of 21 3-pointers but grabbed 24 offensive rebounds and outscored the Cavaliers 24-10 on second-chance points.

“In the second half, they killed us on the boards,” said Virginia coach Pete Gillen, whose eighth-seeded Cavaliers face Clemson in the first round of the ACC tournament Thursday. “We got a little bit rattled by their pressure.”

Virginia shot even worse at 33.9 percent, making just three of 21 3-pointers. Todd Billet, who has been the Cavaliers’ offensive catalyst recently, missed all 10 of his 3-pointers and finished with a season-low two points.

The Terps’ offense finally came to life in the second half, keyed by fullcourt pressure. Shooting guard Chris McCray had a career-high 20 points — including 15 in the second half — and five steals. Senior center Jamar Smith, who was scoreless in the first half, finished with 10 points and 12 rebounds.

The game changed when Williams called a timeout 37 seconds after intermission with the Terps down 38-27.

“I could just see the look [on the players’ faces],” said Williams, who turned up the defensive pressure. “I was trying to change the body language of our team. We had nothing to say about X’s and O’s in that timeout. … The whole thing was energy.”

A baseline jumper by McCray and a short jump hook by Smith started a 23-6 run that gave Maryland control. Even though Virginia tied it at 57-57, the Terps put the game away at the free throw line.

“We came out, got a couple steals and scored back-to-back,” Smith said. “After the timeout, [the Cavaliers] just felt like they weren’t in it. That’s when I knew if we keep going hard, we would win the game.”

And the Terps likely are on their way to an 11th consecutive NCAA appearance.

“I have never said, ‘Why can’t you play like Juan Dixon and Lonny Baxter?’” Williams said. “You can’t say that. You just have to have your own identity. … We have a great tradition here, and I am proud of it.”

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