- The Washington Times - Friday, March 16, 2007

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Gary Williams made the mistake of flipping on ESPN Classic on Wednesday and was soon fixated on the station’s marathon of NCAA tournament upsets.

A day later, his Terrapins were fortunate to avoid becoming the channel’s featured attraction at this time next year.

Fourth-seeded Maryland survived a scare from No. 13 Davidson, rallying for an 82-70 victory at HSBC Arena to win in its first NCAA tournament game since 2004.

It was a decidedly different outcome than the one Williams watched a night earlier — the classic 1996 Princeton-UCLA game, which also was a 4-13 matchup.

“I wanted to see how that went because you definitely feel pressure today,” said Williams, who saw like fans 11 years ago that Princeton scratched out a 43-41 victory. “If you don’t win today, it doesn’t matter what you did during the season. People want to know what’s wrong.”

For now, nothing is amiss at Maryland. Mike Jones scored 17 points, and Bambale Osby provided a needed boost off the bench for the foul-plagued Terps (25-8), who have won eight straight NCAA openers dating back to 1998 and will meet fifth-seeded Butler (28-6) in a Midwest Region second-round game tomorrow.

Davidson freshman Stephen Curry lived up to his advance billing, scoring 30 points as the Wildcats (29-5) lost in the first round for the third time in six years.

“I’m glad we had such a tough challenge in the first round,” said Osby, who had 11 points and six rebounds in 21 minutes (his longest stint since Dec. 10) while filling in for foul-limited Ekene Ibekwe. “People always say it isn’t a hard first-round game, that it’s easy to go to the Sweet 16. To say that, you’ve got to be crazy.”

The Terps, out of sorts because of their chronic foul trouble and maybe also Davidson’s willingness to run the floor, struggled for spurts in the first half but still held a 44-43 lead at the break. But the Wildcats scored the next nine points, building their biggest lead and prompting Williams to call a timeout with 17:21 left.

The impact wasn’t instantaneous, but the differences in the Terps were soon noticeable. Greivis Vasquez ended a scoreless drought of more than six minutes with a 3-pointer, igniting an 8-0 run to erase the deficit and any chance Maryland’s up-and-down season wouldn’t survive until the weekend.

“We came here to win this game and to make sure we did everything we could to win,” Williams said. “I told them there was no guarantee we’re going to win. … That was a tough situation, but this team has come from tough situations all year. That’s not the first time we had to do that. I’m proud of the toughness of these guys.”

It was Curry, the son of former NBA player Dell Curry overlooked by ACC schools only to have a plucky Tobacco Road party-crasher scoop him up, who ensured the Wildcats were in it so late. He scored 23 points in the first 21 minutes, thriving in transition while cleverly probing off-balance defenders for ideal times to unleash his potent shot.

The Terps finally cut down on their transition-producing turnovers (they still finished with 22), allowing D.J. Strawberry to clamp down on the tiring Curry. With the 6-foot-5 senior draped over him, Curry stumbled to a 2-for-10 finish.

“I knew they were going to continue to go to him,” Strawberry said. “I either had to step it up, or he was going to beat us by himself.”

Even with Curry fading, the Wildcats remained persistent, pulling within one with 8:38 left and closing to 71-68 at the 3:33 mark.

However, the Terps’ superior size and rebounding (54-35) asserted itself at the end. Davidson grabbed only three offensive boards in the final nine minutes, and Jones’ 3-pointer with 2:11 remaining made it 75-68 and all but finished off the Wildcats despite the slow start.

“Coaches said, ‘We’re getting beat to every ball and they’re out-hustling us; it’s either time to wake up or we’re going home,’ ” forward James Gist said. “Nobody wanted to go home.”

Williams, who joked his perusal of past upsets was the product of avoiding sleep, should rest better now that the Terps are into the second round.

As for a group of veterans who endured trips to the NIT the last two seasons and an ominous 3-6 start in conference play this season, it was a victory to be savored more than a typical No. 4-No. 13 conquest.

“This meant everything to us,” Strawberry said. “This was what we came into the season wanting to do, just to come back to the NCAA tournament and making a run. We got our first game now.”

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