It was easy to tell early on that it was a special night at Comcast Center. The student section, filled with recruits in the newly named "Red Army", was completely full over an hour before tip-off. ESPN's Dick Vitale was mingling with the troops, feeling the love as he does on campuses across the nation. When Carolina came out for their early warm-ups, the army took up arms, booing lustily as the Tar Heels entered and later left the court. When their general, Maryland Coach Gary Williams, saluted the troops with his customary fist pump, the battle was on.
The Terps avoided the fate that befell Carolina's last opponent, Georgia Tech last Sunday night. The Heels ran out to a 9-0 lead at the Smith Center and never looked back, but John Gilchrist insured that would not happen to Maryland. His driving layup past Raymond Felton and three-pointer from the top of the key offset points in the paint from Sean May and hoops from Melvin Scott and Felton to keep the Terps within 14-10 at the first media timeout.
The Tar Heels threatened to pull away when David Noel's breakaway dunk gave his team a 29-20 lead, but Maryland quickly responded with an 8-2 run. Taking advantage of Carolina's lack of a shot blocking threat, the Terps repeatedly took the ball to the hoop, scoring on a short turn-around jumper by Travis Garrison, a driving layup by Nik Caner-Medley, a Ekene Ibekwe follow of a Gilchrist missed three-pointer, and a Gilchrist follow after Jamar Smith has stolen the ball and missed a driving layup. Gilchrist's hoop brought the crowd to its feet and pushed the noise up to the highest level so far this season.
The excitement didn't last long as Carolina quickly moved back out to a ten-point lead. Felton controlled the game for the next few minutes, He fed Jawad Williams a beautiful lob pass for a bucket, made two free throws, drove for a layup, and scored on a textbook 2-on-1 fast break on a feed from Jackie Manuel. The crowd, which had roared only moments earlier, now buzzed anxiously as their team trailed 40-30.
Mike Jones helped the Terps stay within reach by following a Caner-Medley miss and knocking down two free throws. Gilchrist added a couple of free throws and a jumper while leaning over Felton to draw Maryland back within 42-36. An Ibekwe follow and a Jones free throw brought the Terps with two points at halftime, trailing 49-47 despite committing 13 turnovers in the half.
After a first half where big men Jamar Smith and Sean May played to a standoff (they both had eight points and three rebounds), it was Smith who stood tall at the beginning of the second. A jump shot and two free throws by Smith along with a three-pointer by Gilchrist brought Maryland all the way back, knotting the score at 54-54 early in the second half.
A breakaway layup by Chris McCray gave the Terps their first lead, 56-54, since they were ahead 4-3 early in the game and raised the noise level at Comcast Center to a thunderous crescendo. After this early burst, the teams' roles had reversed and it was now Maryland fighting to keep the Tar Heels at arm's length.
The Terps continued to pound the ball inside to Smith, and it continued to pay off. North Carolina Coach Roy Williams said afterwards, "Maryland was very focused on getting the ball to Jamar Smith, and we didn't do a good job of guarding him." Indeed, as good a player as the Tar Heels Sean May is, he does not play good interior defense. After the Terps regained the lead, Smith worked him over, scoring three straight hoops on a drive, and jump hook, and a putback. This extended Maryland's lead to seven points at 62-55.
Carolina answered with six straight points, but the Terps bounced right back with seven unanswered points of their own. Gilchrist made a running jumper, Caner-Medley knocked down an open three after his defender Jackie Manuel fell down, and Smith made two free throws. No, that is not a misprint. He made 6 of 12 from the line in the second half, not award winning numbers but a step in the right direction given his foul shooting woes so far this season.
Maryland successfully held off Carolina until an 8-2 run tied the game at 78-78 3:08 to play. Three-pointers by Felton and Rashad McCants sandwiched around a layup by May brought the Tar Heels even. These games are often won or lost at the foul line, the Terps' biggest weakness up to this point. McCray made 1 of 2 to put Maryland back ahead 79-78 (amazing how quiet 17,950 people can get when their players are shooting), and Smith added another free throw after drawing Sean May's fourth foul. Caner-Medley then made the play of the night, coming from behind to cleanly block a short jumper by May.
Travis Garrison and McCray both knocked down two free throws to give Maryland an 84-79 lead with 1:07 left, but the heels did not quit. A three-pointer by McCants drew Carolina within 86-84 with three seconds left, but McCants then drew a technical foul for interfering with the Terps' inbound pass. McCray made both the free throws and then hurled a long pass to a breaking Caner-Medley for the game-ending layup and the proverbial icing on the cake.
Smith led all scorers with 22 points; making 8 of 14 shots, and led Maryland with nine rebounds. Gilchrist added 20 points on 7-10 shooting and dished out 5 assists. In the key matchups for this game, Smith outplayed May, who made only 7 of his 19 shots, and Gilchrist fought Felton to a draw.
The Terps gave up 21 offensive rebounds and turned the ball over 22 times, both unacceptable numbers, but they had an outstanding night shooting. The Terps made 54.4% from the floor while the Tar Heels connected on only 41.1%, dropping to 32.4% in the second half. They also enjoyed a big advantage from the foul line, making 25-35 (71.4%, their second best performance of the season) while Carolina made 17-26.
Coach Gary Williams expressed his pride in both players after the game. Regarding Smith, he said, "Our players did a good job in the second half getting Jamar Smith the ball, and he did a good job finishing. That's why he's one of the best players in the ACC." Commenting on the point guard battle, Williams said, "I don't think that there is a better matchup than between those two players. John impressed me in how well he knew the game tonight." High praise indeed from the coach to his point guard.
Williams also praised the Red Army in his post-game radio show, saying, "Our crowd's as good as any in the country. We don't always get credit for that, but it doesn't get any better than it was here tonight."
Roy Williams summed it up well, saying, "The bottom line is that Maryland made big-time plays down the stretch." That can cover up a lot of flaws, and it did on this night.
Notes From Under the Shell
Jawad Williams played with an ugly mask covering the broken nose he hurt against Georgia Tech Sunday night. There were doubts he would play at all, but doctors cleared him of any concussion-like symptoms. Despite his effort, he was ineffective tonight.
Four Terrapins are among the top five in the ACC in scoring improvement over last season. John Gilchrist leads the conference with a nine-point per game increase, Nik Caner-Medley is a close second, Jamar Smith is fourth, and Chris McCray is fifth.
The Terps handed North Carolina their worst ACC lost ever in last season's game at Comcast Center, winning a 96-56 blowout.
It was a media all-star gathering at Comcast Center tonight. Among the notables finding their way to the game were Dick Vitale, nationally renowned writer John Feinstein, and columnists Michael Wilbon of the Washington Post and Mike Preston of the Baltimore Sun. Vitale hosted a book signing session at the Maryland Student Union earlier today.
Each student attending the game received a tee shirt announcing their induction into the "Red Army"; the new name of the student section as voted on, appropriately enough, by the students themselves.
Gary Williams is now 3-0 vs. Roy Williams, also having defeated his namesake twice while Roy was coaching Kansas, most recently in the 2002 Final Four
Maryland has won five of their last six games against North Carolina, including the last three at home.
The Terps are now 3-1 against ranked teams this season, having also defeated Wisconsin and Florida while losing to Gonzaga.
Maryland's next game is at Georgia Tech at 8:00 PM Saturday. The game will be shown regionally on the Raycom/Jefferson Pilot network.
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