- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 3, 2008

ATLANTA — The Maryland basketball team’s season was a cheap horror paperback — disposable, easy to figure out and at times downright bad.

That story is long gone, an old-fashioned mystery page-turner now in its stead.

Unanswered questions abound for these Terrapins, such as how did they lose to American back in December, where was the offense until the last couple weeks and can they continue their nascent NCAA tournament push?

And yesterday’s two-sided conundrum: attempting to figure out just how they fended off plucky Georgia Tech 88-86 at Alexander Memorial Coliseum while simultaneously trying to discern why it was even that close.

“It’s never easy,” senior James Gist exhaled. “This was a suspenseful game, too close for comfort. I didn’t know what was around the next corner.”

Even if it was a day that might have made Agatha Christie proud, it was certainly one from which Maryland coach Gary Williams could derive satisfaction. All five starters scored in double figures for the second straight game for the Terps (14-8, 4-3 ACC), who are six games over .500 for the first time this season.

The balance permitted Maryland to score the first nine points and ultimately dominate the first half even as Gist and Greivis Vasquez remained quiet. But it was still easy to explain the Terps’ 50-41 halftime lead.

Senior forward Bambale Osby scored 16 of his team-high 18 points before halftime, while sophomore Landon Milbourne was active in both halves en route to a career-best 16 points as the Terps scored 80 points for the fourth consecutive game.

“If guys are used to scoring, they can pick up the slack,” Williams said. “If a guy has been scoring four, five points a game for the last three games and you say you have to pick it up, well that’s not going to happen. Guys have to be used to scoring. That’s what is valuable about it. The team you play against can’t just put all their preparation into one guy.”

It happened earlier in the season, when opponents hassled Gist and Vasquez into frustrating nights and the Terps into inexplicable losses. The Yellow Jackets (10-10, 3-4) were not nearly so fortunate, though they were the victim of a surprisingly crucial stretch in the middle of the second half.

Gist and Osby picked up their third fouls back-to-back, and both went to the bench to Williams’ consternation as Maryland nursed a 67-64 lead.

The patchwork lineup featured Vasquez and four freshmen — Adrian Bowie, Braxton Dupree, Cliff Tucker and Shane Walker — and provided Georgia Tech its best chance to finally take its first lead.

Yet the day’s most unanticipated twist was the Terps’ response. Bowie hit a 3-pointer from the corner to spark a 7-0 spurt, and the Maryland kiddie corps prevented the Yellow Jackets from scoring for more than three minutes before the starters returned.

That Maryland could not just sustain its lead but actually expand it without its core group on the court was a surprising development with possible ramifications as the Terps continue their postseason push.

“The biggest thing that happened today was that the bench came in and got that 10-point lead back for us,” Osby said. “That’s huge. That was a big rest for me and James and Landon, and I think that won the game for us.”

But it wasn’t the entire explanation. The Terps led 83-71 with 4:42 left, but the Yellow Jackets unleashed a 13-4 run to tighten it. After Vasquez missed a pair of foul shots, Georgia Tech’s Matt Causey made two with 2.5 seconds left — the second barely banking in to the chagrin of the Yellow Jackets.

Vasquez then made a free throw with a second left before missing the second. Jeremis Smith’s heave off the rebound was well wide of the basket.

That ensured Maryland would cling to its slim edge. Georgia Tech closed within a possession seven times in the second half but never managed to tie it as the Terps survived to capture their third road game in a month.

“As long as you have the lead, you think you’re going to win,” Williams said. “The other part of that is it’s really hard to battle back a couple times. Teams get tired doing that. They get close but just can’t get over the hump. I’ve been on that side, too. We were tough.”

That part, anyway, was no mystery at all.

Terps report

Yesterday at Alexander Memorial Coliseum in Atlanta

SEEN AND HEARD

There was a moment of unintentional comedy when Bambale Osby fired a line drive shot attempt in the final moments of the first half. Trouble was, 1.5 seconds were left when it landed out of bounds. Osby said he looked up at the clock and thought 0.4 seconds remained when he shot. Instead, there were four seconds remaining. Ultimately, the Yellow Jackets barely missed the ensuing 3-point attempt.

BY THE NUMBERS

.833 Free throw percentage for Maryland forward Osby in the last five games (25-for-30, including 8-for-9 yesterday). The surge from Osby, who shot 62.2 percent at the line before that stretch, coincides with a 4-1 stretch in league play for the Terrapins.

599 Career victories for Maryland coach Gary Williams, whose first chance at No. 600 will come Wednesday at Boston College.

Patrick Stevens

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