- The Washington Times - Monday, March 2, 2009

RALEIGH, N.C. | Amid a topsy-turvy game in the latter stages of a turbulent season, Greivis Vasquez remained constant Sunday night.

He exhorted his teammates. He writhed into the lane time and again. He barked at an irked RBC Center crowd, particularly after an insurance 3-pointer at the buzzer drew its enmity.

Oh, and he virtually carried Maryland to a 71-60 defeat of N.C. State, scoring 33 points to bolster the Terrapins’ NCAA tournament possibilities and commence a potentially crazy March.

“He’s a tough guy,” coach Gary Williams said. “In timeouts and things like that, we stay tough because I think Greivis really does not like to lose, and he can really get that through to the other players sometimes.”

Dave Neal (11 points) was the only other player in double figures for the foul-plagued Terps (18-10, 7-7 ACC), who evened their conference record with a week left in the regular season.

The Terps had won only once on the road before Sunday night and could ill afford a loss to a team loitering near the bottom of the ACC standings. Wobbling on the edge of the postseason discussion, Maryland badly needed a victory to avoid a desperate situation in the final week of the regular season.

Certainly those remaining games - Tuesday’s home finale against Wake Forest and Saturday’s visit to Virginia - remain important. But the Terps did keep their yo-yo-like season going, swinging back up after Wednesday’s loss to Duke in College Park.

“I told them at halftime that if we lose this game, our season is pretty much over,” Neal said. “I think they took that into consideration and came out in the second half and played hard the last 20 minutes.”

Tracy Smith scored 19 points for N.C. State (15-12, 5-9), eviscerating Maryland inside but not quite matching Vasquez in the closing stretch.

It was the junior who again summoned a dominant performance when required, not quite topping his triple-double a weekend earlier against North Carolina. But Vasquez still orchestrated the final stages of a victory that was far from certain when Landon Milbourne (five points) fouled out with 6:53 left.

It was Vasquez who threaded a pass to Dino Gregory for a layup to bump Maryland’s lead to 60-53. He also grabbed a rebound off a Brandon Costner miss to deny the Wolfpack a second chance to close within a possession.

The Venezuelan also closed out N.C. State in the final minute, wiggling between two defenders with 25.8 seconds remaining to make the score 66-60.

“I’m trying to play hard and trying to take my game to a different level,” said Vasquez, who was 13-for-23 from the floor and committed only one turnover. “I’m just trying to lead these guys to something special. We have a tough team that can make it to the NCAAs.”

A couple of victories might do it. With several marginal possibilities across the nation losing at least once in the last week, Maryland emerged from its split with Duke and N.C. State in no worse shape.

Vasquez’s creativity made it possible, but so did Eric Hayes’ 31 turnover-free minutes, some slick screens from Neal and the occasional timely jumper from Cliff Tucker.

The night, though, possessed Vasquez’s imprint almost from the start. He helped the Terps build a nine-point in the first half, and after it receded he scored 21 of Maryland’s 37 second-half points to put away the turnover-prone Wolfpack.

“I think he took over personally in those last seven minutes,” Neal said.

While not necessarily a signature performance for Vasquez, it was a night emblematic of the Terps’ season. Undersized Maryland was outshot (though not from the perimeter) and outrebounded, and a loss to a plucky home team was never out of the question.

Yet Maryland trailed for all of 13 seconds, seizing a victory it needed after surviving a rocky march to March.

“I never felt we were going to give it away; N.C. State was going to have to take it from us,” Williams said. “We just stayed tough, and some things went our way.”

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