- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 7, 2006

Gary Williams set Maryland’s career victories mark last night with a triumph neither he nor the Terrapins will soon forget.

Maryland rallied from an early hole and a double-digit deficit in the second half, stunning Virginia 76-65 before 17,950 at Comcast Center to snap a three-game losing streak and deliver Williams’ 349th win at the school over 17 seasons.

The victory broke a tie with Lefty Driesell and provided another benchmark in Williams’ journey from a junior varsity high school coach in Camden, N.J., to the winningest coach in his alma mater’s history.

“You really think how lucky you are,” the emotional Williams said. “It was tough at the end, but at the same time I realize where I’ve been and how great it is to coach here.”

The Terps (15-7, 5-4 ACC) used a late run to overcome the Cavaliers (11-9, 5-5) for a much-needed victory against another team fighting for an NCAA tournament berth. Senior forward Nik Caner-Medley shook hands with the smiling Williams as the final seconds expired and then presented him with the game ball.

It was a high point for a team racked with distractions in recent weeks. Senior guard Chris McCray was declared academically ineligible Jan. 23. The Terps had been 1-3 since his suspension, making their postseason hopes anything but certain.

None of that mattered on a milestone evening.

“You have to appreciate it,” senior Travis Garrison said. “We probably won’t right now because of our age, but later on after we get out of college and done with basketball, the history books will come on ESPN and Coach Williams and the Hall of Fame and what happened, and we were involved in that.”

Williams was emotional in his postgame remarks broadcast through the arena, first with former Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins and then on Maryland’s radio network. He paused to maintain his composure several times during a postgame interview session, much as he had in the locker room after the victory.

“He choked up a little bit, but he tried to suck it up in front of us,” Garrison said. “You know Coach Williams, he’s a real tough guy.”

And a frustrated one early in the game as Virginia scored the first 13 points on the way to a 17-3 lead. Maryland narrowed the gap to three before the Cavaliers, supported by the outside shooting of guards Sean Singletary (18 points) and J.R. Reynolds (18 points), bumped the lead back to 41-30 shortly after halftime.

Maryland seemed no closer to a rally at the 11:37 mark, when Williams inserted Parrish Brown to run the offense. The junior took two fouls from Singletary and played eight near-perfect minutes.

Brown’s insertion coincided with an improvement in Maryland’s offensive efficiency. The Terps were 4-for-16 from the floor in the second half before Brown entered, and 11-for-16 the rest of the way.

“We were working against Virginia’s things yesterday, and Parrish was imitating Singletary and we couldn’t stop Parrish,” Williams said. “I just told him, ‘When you get in tomorrow, just think you’re Singletary.’ He just played looser.”

He also allowed D.J. Strawberry (career-high 19 points) to shift to the wing, where he thrived. His 3-pointer with 8:09 remaining tied it for the first time and elicited the loudest ovation at Comcast this season, and he added another jumper at 4:51 to erase Virginia’s final lead.

Junior Ekene Ibekwe (14 points, career-high 15 rebounds) sandwiched a pair of short jumpers around two Singletary free throws, and Mike Jones added a 3-pointer to make it 65-60 and finally give Maryland a two-possession lead. Ibekwe and Caner-Medley added jumpers on the next two possessions, securing an exhausting win for their coach.

“It was easy coaching because it was so hard,” Williams said. “It sounds funny, but when you have to coach a game like that where you fall behind and you think you might lose by 30, the old fear factor comes in and you do whatever it takes to try to win the game.”

It was a much-needed victory, and not just in a historical sense. The Terps moved back above .500 in the league, defended their home court less than a week after a lackluster loss to North Carolina at Comcast and halted a slide that could have grown severe with No. 2 Duke visiting College Park on Saturday.

That game provides Maryland its best remaining opportunity for a quality victory to bolster its NCAA tournament resume. The Terps’ postseason profile is far from complete, a fact of which Caner-Medley reminded his teammates when they returned to the locker room.

“I said that was a great win, but it’s not going to get us anywhere if we don’t improve, we don’t build off it,” Caner-Medley said. “Something we’ve always done since I’ve been here, it seems like over the past couple years we’ve gotten a couple big wins and taken steps in the right direction and then taken a few steps back. The defining point for this team is when we can build and continue to build.”

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