This was an important game for both teams, but especially Wake Forest (12-4, 3-3). The Deacons had lost their last four games, three of them in the conference, and were trying to avoid their first five-game losing streak in five years. On a night when they honored former All-American Josh Howard at halftime, it was a future Wake All-American, freshman Chris Paul, who led Wake to the win. Paul led all scorers with 25 points and harassed Terp point guard John Gilchrist into 3-11 shooting and 6 turnovers.
Maryland threatened to pull off a miraculous comeback in the last minute of the contest. Trailing 86-76 with 1:17, the Terps knocked down three three-pointers in 31 seconds. Gilchrist hit the first one, and, after two free throws by Paul, canned a second three after receiving a touch pass from Mike Jones off an inbound play. The Deacons' Taron Downey then turned the ball over and Jones made Wake pay with another three.
Maryland trailed by only 88-85 when Deacons' coach Skip Prosser called a time out. Following the break, Paul beat the Terps' trapping defense and drew a foul from Jones. Paul made 1-2 free throws with :38 left in the game, giving Maryland plenty of time to pull the game out. Gilchrist then missed a three, and Wake Forest closed the game out with two free throws each from Justin Gray (20 points) and Trent Strickland.
The Terps jumped out to an early 13-6 lead with Jamar Smith and Nik Caner-Medley chipping in two hoops each. After a media time out, the Deacons responded with 8 points in 55 seconds to take a 14-13 advantage.
Wake was ahead 26-25 when a sensational stretch by Mike Jones gave Maryland control of the game. After two Hassan Fofana free throws put the Terps up 27-26, Jones caused a tie-up that turned the ball over to Maryland, made a three-pointer, drew a charging foul, and made another three-pointer. Shortly after he and Paul drew technical fouls for an exchange after a foul, Jones made two free throws to give him 8 points in 48 seconds.
The Terps held off the Deacons through the remainder of the half and took a 53-43 lead into the locker room at halftime. That was the most points Maryland has scored at the half all season. Wake scored only one hoop in the last 5:59, but stayed in the game by converting 11-13 free throws during that stretch.
In the first half, the Terps committed only five turnovers, shot 51% from the floor, made 6-12 three pointers, and had 24 points off the bench. Along with Jones' 8, Travis Garrison added 10 on 5-6 shooting. Justin Gray almost single handedly kept Wake in the game with 16 points in the first half.
As clean and crisp as the Maryland's offensive execution was in the first half, that's how slow and sloppy it was in the second. The Terps committed 14 turnovers after halftime and missed numerous layups and short jumpers (shooting only 36%).
As the offense stagnated, Gilchrist dribbled, dribbled, and dribbled some more. Part of it was surely due to the lack of movement from his teammates, but some of it was also Gilchrist's disturbing habit of dribbling the ball too much. It became easier for Maryland players to stand and watch Gilchrist who, with Paul draped over him and violating his personal space, struggled mightily to advance the ball and run the offense.
After Maryland's bench dominated the first half, Wake's bench came up big in the second. Taron Downey (12 points, 6 assists), Kyle Visser (11 points, 6 rebounds) and Trent Strickland (9 points, 6 rebounds) all made significant contributions as the Deacons snatched control of the game away from the Terps.
Maryland appeared to still have matters well in hand when, leading 62-53, Wake Forest's center Eric Williams picked up his fourth foul with 16:08 to play. Williams would sit most of the balance of the game, but his replacement, Visser, scored the next six points of the game.
The Terps were entering an 8:30 stretch where they would only score one hoop. The Deacons would outscore Maryland 17-5 during this dry spell to take a 67-64 lead with 10:16 remaining. The Terps briefly tied the game at 67-67 with 7:42 left, but the missed shots and turnovers were too much for them to overcome.
As you could imagine, Maryland Coach Gary Williams was less than thrilled with his team's collapse in the second half (they were outscored 50-32). "We just weren't smart enough on offense," Williams said after the game, "and we stopped moving on defense. Hopefully we'll learn to get games like this that you should win."
Make no mistake; this game was there to be won by the Terps. As they did at Georgia Tech, Maryland wilted under pressure in the second half and let a win slip away. With trips to Duke, North Carolina, NC State and Virginia still looming, the Terps still have ample opportunity to put these lessons to good use and insure their 11t h straight trip to the NCAA Tournament. Until they do, however, they can not afford to slip up at home.
Sunday's home contest with NC State, therefore, becomes very important. At 2-4 in the conference, ALL of the games are important.
Notes From Under the Shell
Tonight was Gary Williams' 800 th game as a college head coach (513-287). Reminded of that fact by Johnny Holliday during his radio pre-game interview, Williams said, "That's ridiculous. It's meant a lot of nervous days."
Caner-Medley led Maryland scorers tonight with 15 points. Garrison added 13 and Gilchrist scored 12. Smith, the ACC's leading rebounder, grabbed only six tonight but still led the team.
On a positive note, Maryland's free throw shooting is coming around. They made 23-30 tonight, 71.4%. Wake Forest, however, converted 38 of 46, 83.3%.
Wake won tonight with little contribution from their starting big men. Williams scored seven points and had only three rebounds. Vytas Danelius, still trying to find his grove after numerous early-season injuries, scored one point in only eight minutes of action.
Maryland leads the all-time series with Wake Forest 56-52. The Terps had won 8 of the last 9 meetings with the Deacons coming into this game.
The Terps have a critical home game coming up next when they host North Carolina State on Sunday at 2 PM. The game will be on Fox Sports Net.
Maryland and NC State played the first Super Sunday game in 1973, the first ACC regular season game to be nationally televised. The Wolfpack prevailed 87-85 in one of the greatest college basketball games I have ever seen. David Thompson's tip in at the buzzer won it for State.
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