After their disappointing showing last weekend in the BB&T Classic, it was critical for the Terps to get off to a good start tonight, and they did just that. Florida led 4-3 early in the game, but Maryland then embarked on a 12-0 run that made the Gators "House of Horrors" crowd sound like a gathering at the campus library.
Nik Caner-Medley scored five points and grabbed four rebounds during that stretch. Florida's leading scorer, sophomore Matt Walsh (who enrolled at Florida over his second choice, Maryland), had just the opposite kind of start to his night. It seemed for a while that he couldn't take a shot without someone in red knocking it back in his face.
Walsh did manage to bring his Gators back within four points after knocking down a three-pointer and scoring on a drive where he used an assortment of moves to finally get past the Terps' DJ Strawberry. That hoop cut Maryland's lead to 22-18, and Florida Coach Billy Donovan switched his team from a man-to-man into a zone defense. This was the first coaching decision that did not work out in this game, but it wouldn't be the last.
Maryland, with point guard John Gilchrist clearly in charge, ran their half-court offense far better than they had at any point so far this season over the next few minutes and gradually extended their lead. Back-to-back three pointers by Chris McCray gave the Terps a 34-21 edge late in the first half and a 39-27 lead at halftime.
Caner-Medley had already put in a good night's work at the break, scoring ten points and pulling down ten rebounds. Gilchrist led all scorers with 12 points at the half. Maryland was efficient at the offensive end in the first half, shooting 48% and making 5-8 three-point attempts. They were stifling on the defensive end, forcing the Gators, who came into the game shooting 51%, to miss 27 of their 36 attempts.
On the way in to talk to his team at halftime, Coach Gary Williams told ESPN reporter Doris Burke, "We're keeping it simple and executing very well. It could go out any minute, though. It's like a ticking time bomb." Don't say the man doesn't know his team.
After Gilchrist opened the second half scoring with a layup, Caner-Medley had another burst where he scored the team's next eight points with two three's and a runner in the lane. This gave the Terps a seemingly comfortable 49-32 lead with 16:27 left in the game. The balance of the contest would be anything but comfortable for Coach Williams and Maryland fans, however.
At this point, Coach Donovan took the Gators out of the zone defense, and his team began to execute their half-court offense and make a few shots. The Terps, on the other hand, stopped making theirs. Maryland, so effective in the first half, made only 7-29 shots in the second half (24%). Florida warmed up somewhat to 41% in the second and started making up ground.
A driving layup by the Gators' center David Lee cut Maryland's lead to 55-44 with 7:57 left and got the Florida crowd engaged again. Lee would make only that lone shot for the game, finishing 1-12 from the floor. After a pair of Christian Drejer free throws made the score 55-46, Coach Williams dropped his team back into a 3-2 zone, in part to protect John Gilchrist from picking up his 4 th foul.
Gator guard Anthony Roberson quickly took advantage of more room than he had seen all night to knock down back-to-back three pointers, and Drejer threw down an unchallenged dunk on a baseline drive to draw Florida within 57-54 with 4:48 to play.
At this point, both teams appeared somewhat spent and the game became quite ugly. In fact, there were no more field goals made in regulation. After Florida's Roberson had tied the game at 57-57 with two free throws, Jamar Smith made 1-2 and Gilchrist made 2-2 from the line to give the Terps a 60-57 lead with 1:05 left.
Drejer got the Gators back within a point by making two foul shots, and Gilchrist missed at the other end (while being mugged). D. J. Strawberry made a huge defensive play (what else is new) by drawing a charge on Matt Walsh and giving Maryland a chance to run out the clock.
Gary Williams proved that even great coaches are capable of making bonehead moves during the pressure of a close game. Inexplicably, he inserted junior Mike Grinnon into the Maryland lineup with 18 seconds left and a one-point lead on the road. Grinnon is a fine young man and, so I understand, an excellent student. Unfortunately, he has been in that situation about as often as I have and, predictably, reacted like I would have—he caught the ball, was pressured, and traveled.
In a game where nothing came easy, Florida would not accept this gift. Gilchrist fouled out, but Drejer made only one of the two free throws to tie the game. The Terps got a good look at a game winning shot, but McCray missed a short fadeaway jumper and the game went to an extra period.
Caner-Medley again started a period on fire, knocking down a running jumper and driving the lane for a layup that put Maryland ahead 64-63. Florida quickly answered with a deep three-pointer by Roberson and a breakaway dunk by Walsh that gave the Gators a 68-64 lead with 1:49 remaining in overtime. At that point, Florida was on a 28-9 run over 12 minutes.
Then the game, and perhaps even the season, turned around. Caner-Medley knocked down a jumper and ran back down the court with an Elvis-type sneer on his face that would have been comical if his eyes had not been so intense. He was clearly feeling it, and his teammates picked up on that sweet vibe. Coach Williams said afterwards about Caner Medley, "That's where we want Nik to be as a basketball player."
Strawberry made a free throw that cut Florida's lead to 68-67 and then, after a Walsh miss, Travis Garrison squared up without hesitation and knocked down the game-winning jumper with 18 seconds left. That was Garrisons' only hoop of the night but, as Coach Williams said after the game, "Travis hitting that was just tremendous."
Caner-Medley led all scorers with 22 points on 9-16 shooting. Gilchrist added 18. Anthony Roberson was the Gators' leading scorer with 20 points. It was an outstanding defensive effort for the Terps, holding Florida to 31% shooting, forcing 18 turnovers, and blocking 10 shots.
After the game, Williams was justifiably proud of his team's effort. When Maryland radio color analyst Chris Knoche asked him about those fans who were ready to bury the Terps after losing two games this past weekend, Williams defiantly said, "I hope after 15 years people shut up and realize that we're NEVER dead."
Notes From Under the Shell
It was announced on Wednesday that junior guard Andre Collins has left the team and intends to transfer to another school. Reports are that this was an amicable separation. I never thought Collins looked happy this season, and he was not effective in the point guard role he had to play on this team. Hopefully Collins will find a program where he can play his natural wing position (a challenge given his 5' 10" height in heels) and be successful. Good luck, Andre. Boy, you missed a hell of a game!
This was the ninth time in school history that Maryland has defeated a #1 team, second only to UCLA's 10. For Williams, it was his sixth, five coming at Maryland, one at Ohio State.
This was Williams' 300 th win as head coach at Maryland. Congratulations Coach!
Darryl Strawberry drew the television cameras' attention again tonight as he watched his son play. Strawberry was attired in a Maryland sweatshirt and cap. That's two national TV games for D. J. and two appearances for dad.
D. J. Strawberry has assumed the backup point guard duties following the departure of Collins.
This was the second time that Florida had been ranked #1, and the second time they immediately lost. That also happened last year. There's nothing like catching a team at the right time.
Free throw shooting continues to be a problem for the Terps, who came in at 56.7% for the season and made only 8-18 (44%) tonight. If it does not improve, this deficiency will cost them at least one game at some point in the season.
The Terps' next game is Sunday night at the Comcast Center vs. Pepperdine. The game will be broadcast on Fox Sports Net at 5:30 PM as part of the national "Sunday Night Hoops" package.
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Photos courtesy: (AP Photo/Phil Sandlin)