- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 10, 2010

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Gary Williams had a feeling his Maryland team would be better than people thought in the preseason. He wound up being right, and that landed him a share of a title — and another coaching honor.

Williams was named the Atlantic Coast Conference coach of the year on Tuesday after his Terrapins exceeded most preseason predictions, catapulted into the national rankings and shared the league’s regular-season championship with Duke.

“This year, especially, it’s a reflection on our players,” Williams said. “It’s been great coaching a team that has been willing to get better as the year has gone on.”

Williams, who won the award for the second time, was an overwhelming selection in balloting conducted by the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association. He received 42 of 53 votes to outdistance Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski (8), Virginia Tech’s Seth Greenberg (2) and Florida State’s Leonard Hamilton (1).

His 19th-ranked Terrapins enter this week’s ACC tournament in Greensboro as the league’s hottest team. They closed the season by winning seven in a row, and made up for their only loss since January — a 77-56 defeat at Duke — by beating the Blue Devils 79-72 last week and eventually finishing 23-7.

Their 13-3 league record is their best since they went 15-1 in 2001-02 — the year they won the national championship and Williams claimed his previous coaching award.

Not bad for a team picked fifth in the media’s annual preseason poll.

Still, Williams had a hunch his team could turn out better than that, especially with a lineup built around three seniors: ACC player of the year Greivis Vasquez, sharpshooting guard Eric Hayes and impact forward Landon Milbourne. Freshman Jordan Williams, who is 6-foot-10, added significant presence in the low post while averaging a double-double during the late-season surge.

“As a coach, you never allow outside people to put a limit on what you can do,” Williams said. “You just work with your team and see what level you can get to at the end of the year. That’s what we tried to do.”

But there wasn’t a specific flash point in which everything came together for the Terrapins, Williams said. Instead, he said, things progressed gradually to where road victories at Boston College, Florida State and North Carolina State — and a 92-71 romp against nemesis North Carolina — helped the team’s confidence to snowball.

“We never looked at any particular game as feeling we’ve accomplished something,” he said. “Every time you win a game against a good team, it gives you confidence. … With the seniors, they really helped the whole situations and not letting you get too high or too low.”

Williams enters the postseason with a record of 441-236 in 21 seasons leading his alma mater, and his career mark of 648-364 includes 32 years at Maryland, Boston College, Ohio State and American. The winningest coach in Terrapins history is all but assured of his 17th trip to the NCAA tournament and his third in four years.

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