- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Maryland basketball team earned no style points against Georgia Tech yesterday at Comcast Center.

A much-needed victory more than made up for it.

The Terrapins squeezed out an 87-84 overtime victory to finish off a season sweep of the Yellow Jackets and reclaim some hope for a late push for an NCAA tournament berth after absorbing an ugly loss Tuesday at Clemson.

“We proved today we can gut it out,” senior forward Travis Garrison said.

That it came against a young team entrenched near the bottom of the ACC hardly mattered to Maryland yesterday. Neither did another 26-turnover performance.

All that seemed important to the Terps (16-9, 6-6 ACC) was the end of a festering 1-5 slide.

“Winning is what you have to do this time of year,” Maryland coach Gary Williams said. “Nobody says how you have to do it or how it looks, so that’s what I was about today. I was going to try to win that game somehow, and the players felt the same way.”

A mix of relief and joy permeated Maryland’s locker room just days after the miserable midweek 89-77 debacle at Clemson. The Terps were listless in the second half of that loss, and the team’s mood was downright funereal after the damaging setback.

Senior forward Nik Caner-Medley said after the loss the team had “to do a lot of soul searching” before a skid that started one game after senior guard Chris McCray was declared academically ineligible consumed the Terps’ NCAA chances.

Those postseason aspirations remain alive, even if the victory came in less than artistic fashion against a team that is 1-10 away from home this season.

“It’s something positive,” Caner-Medley said. “It’s a step in the right direction. At this time of year, it doesn’t have to be pretty. It’s all about working hard and getting better, and right now we’re doing both of those things.”

Both teams had chances to win in the final seconds of regulation. After deliberately waiting until the last 10 seconds to run a play, the Terps got it inside to Caner-Medley. His 7-footer was swatted away by Ra’Sean Dickey (23 points), fueling a fast break to the other end.

There, the Yellow Jackets (10-14, 3-10) had what seemed to be an open 3-pointer. Zam Fredrick took the shot, only to have it swatted away by Mike Jones to force overtime.

“I’m known for offense, but I feel tonight my defense really played a big role,” said Jones, who made more of a contribution than his team-high 21 points.

Maryland’s team defense helped secure the victory in overtime. Junior forward Ekene Ibekwe scored five of his 14 points in the extra period, but Georgia Tech still had a chance to tie after forcing a turnover with 23 seconds left.

However, Anthony Morrow couldn’t find an open look in the closing seconds, and his heave from the top of the key clanked away, sending the reeling Yellow Jackets to their 10th loss in 11 games.

“We were just totally disjointed,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt said of the final play.

Maryland has four regular-season games left, including three on the road, and still can play its way into the NCAA tournament in what is a decidedly weak year nationwide. The Terps face only one more team with a winning record in league play (North Carolina).

The other three opponents (Florida State, Miami and Virginia) join Maryland in a four-team scrum at 6-6 in the ACC, leaving the Terps a chance to distinguish themselves against other programs seemingly destined for the NCAA bubble.

“We just have to continue to win games, point blank, period,” point guard D.J. Strawberry said. “We just have to win games. I don’t care how we win. It can be ugly like it was tonight.”

Note — Forward Dave Neal did not dress for what Williams described as “a coach’s decision.” The seldom-used freshman is averaging 1.2 points and 3.7 minutes in 11 games.

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