- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 2, 2006

Maryland’s seniors scripted an ideal ending in their last scheduled game at Comcast Center.

Now comes the task of making sure they don’t play there again.

Forward Nik Caner-Medley scored 18 points as the Terrapins (17-11, 7-8 ACC) rallied past Miami 65-61 to maintain their flickering NCAA tournament hopes.

Maryland, which defeated the Hurricanes (15-13, 7-8) for the first time in three meetings since Miami joined the ACC last year, finishes its regular season Sunday at Virginia.

“We talked about just having something happen and getting a win like this to get us rolling, having there be some positive momentum, and at this time of year that’s what you need,” Caner-Medley said. “During the season, maybe one win, you don’t want to get too high about it, or the losses you don’t want to get too low. This time of year, you can take a win like this and really use it as a roller coaster to get you going in an upward direction.”

It was a game the Terps desperately needed to maintain any realistic hopes of reaching the NCAA tournament and avoiding a second straight trip to the NIT. But like just about everything for Maryland, the victory came in the most difficult manner possible.

Not that it wasn’t impressive in some ways. The Terps contained Miami’s backcourt triumvirate of Robert Hite (18 points), Guillermo Diaz (17 points) and Anthony Harris (11 points). It wasn’t a complete shutdown but still far better than when the three combined for 65 points in the teams’ meeting Jan. 7.

“We know they’re good guards, but that just can’t happen,” Maryland guard D.J. Strawberry said. “They’re a guard-oriented team, and we knew their big men weren’t really going to do anything so we tried to shut down their guards.”

Added Maryland coach Gary Williams: “The whole league’s had problems matching up because usually there’s one bad matchup. We were able to get our guards to play pretty good defense. Mike Jones did a good job and Sterling [Ledbetter] came in and played really well defensively.”

It was tied entering the final minute when, after a timeout, sophomore James Gist set a screen, took a pass from Jones and made a 12-footer in the lane to give Maryland the lead for good.

Harris cut it to 59-58, but the Terps split six free throws to take a seemingly safe 62-58 lead with 13.9 seconds left. Yet Hite nailed a 3-pointer from the left corner with 7.3 seconds remaining to make it a one-point game.

The Hurricanes then fouled Ledbetter, a senior who helped shut down Harris on the perimeter. Ledbetter had split a pair of free throws moments earlier, but with the encouragement of Caner-Medley, made both foul shots to make it 64-61.

“He told me, you’ve got to make that,” Ledbetter said. “He kept telling me you’re going to get another chance. I didn’t pay any attention to it, but I definitely did get another chance. He came up to me and said ‘This is your chance. You can’t miss it.’ I knew what I had to do.”

Strawberry fouled Diaz with 2.5 seconds left, but the Miami guard missed both free throws. It was a clever ploy, since Diaz was far less dangerous on the foul line than on the perimeter.

The Terps had lost seven of nine before last night, and the scuffling team seemed on the verge of another damaging loss when the Hurricanes went up 53-46 with less than eight minutes left.

The Terps got back into it at the foul line, pulling within 55-52. Then Strawberry took a charge near halfcourt from Diaz, emphatically clapping his hands after standing up.

“Sometimes, one play can make a difference in a game,” Williams said. “It might not show up, but that might have turned it for us defensively. Diaz, he’s a pro when he gets out of school, and to be able to get a charge in the open court, that’s what makes that charge special. It wasn’t in the lane when you’re helping off of somebody. That was a great play by D.J.”

Caner-Medley, Ledbetter and Travis Garrison were honored before the game, and all three started as the Terps jumped to a 25-13 lead. The Terps led until more than six minutes were gone in the second half, when Hite and Harris briefly got hot.

The three could play at Comcast again if they end up in the NIT, but a victory at Virginia on Sunday would bolster the Terps’ NCAA tournament credentials. Only six teams since 1980 have finished at .500 or better in the ACC and missed the tournament, giving hope to the Terps despite their struggle throughout February.

“I feel like with our strength of schedule, we can get to .500 and give ourselves a chance, so we’ll see what happens,” Williams said.

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