- The Washington Times - Friday, January 28, 2005

A signature victory at midseason could propel Maryland into the postseason.

The Terrapins’ 75-66 victory at No.2 Duke on Wednesday night took Maryland off the NCAA tournament bubble and re-energized a program that once appeared incapable of beating top opponents. The Terps had been 1-4 against ranked teams, defeating only a No.25 Memphis team that since has slipped to 10-9. Now the Terps will face No.22 Georgia Tech on Sunday at Comcast Center likely needing only five wins in their final 10 games to seal an NCAA bid.

“I think you have to win a game against a quality team during the year to have credibility and believe that you’re a good team,” Terps coach Gary Williams said.

Maryland (12-5, 3-3 ACC) rebounded from one of its worst efforts, an 85-69 home loss to N.C. State just three nights earlier. The Terps felt the pressure of not only falling from the ACC race but perhaps the postseason chase with another blowout loss.

Guard Chris McCray said the Terps, amazingly, showed a “swagger in their eye” shortly before tipoff against Duke. Forward Travis Garrison had “a feeling” an upset was imminent. Meanwhile, forward Nik Caner-Medley was taking deep breaths in another corner of the locker room to overcome anxiety caused by Duke fans chanting a reference to his offseason altercation outside a bar.

Silencing the Cameron Indoor Stadium crowd is like trying to shout down happy hour at a political convention. However, steely free throw shooting — 11 of 12 in the final 83 seconds — overcame the loss of leading scorer Caner-Medley (25 points), who sprained his ankle with the score 64-64. He is expected to be ready for Georgia Tech.

“It showed how good we are,” Garrison said. “This is how good we are. What you saw tonight is how good we are.”

Translation — the Terps are pretty good after all.

“You find out about your players in this situation,” Williams said. “It would have been easy to come in here and lose by 20. The players wouldn’t have caught any more [grief]. But they want to be good. They proved it. We have to play hard for 40 minutes. They passed that test.”

Williams is unsure whether Maryland will continue using its surprising starting lineup with center Will Bowers and guard Mike Jones replacing forward Ekene Ibekwe and Garrison. However, the Terps returned to their traditional five late in the second half, with Garrison and Ibekwe’s free throws winning the game.

Williams achieved the needed quick start through a new combination, but repeating the magic might prove difficult. Still, Garrison came off the bench to deliver nine points and five rebounds, and Ibekwe added 15 points and nine rebounds.

“The first half, the team was playing so well I was frustrated,” Garrison said. “I had to do something, anything. I had to get a rebound, block a shot.”

Caner-Medley continued his torrid five-game run with 25 points, five rebounds and four steals while twice carrying Maryland’s offense. The crowd focused on Caner-Medley with creative and sometimes biting chants, but the junior countered by converting all six free throws and the team’s only three 3-pointers.

“Nik really showed a lot of composure,” guard John Gilchrist said. “He told me ‘Keep coming to me,’ keep bringing the ball to his side.”

Maryland’s guards also outplayed Duke’s backcourt. Gilchrist delivered his most passionate effort in five games since a meeting with Williams about running the offense. He once more looked for his shot and carried the Terps in short spurts with 10 points and nine rebounds.

McCray’s seven points and six rebounds was less significant than his second-half defensive effort against Duke guard J.J. Redick. The ACC’s leading scorer finished with 20 points but had only six in the second half on 3-for-12 shooting.

“You can’t stop guys like Redick,” McCray said. “You just try to limit him. We couldn’t let all of their big three go off, so we tried to stop one.”

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