Terps Give Williams Record: Win Is Coach’s 349th at U-Md.
By Eric Prisbell,
In many ways, last night’s game mirrored Gary Williams’s 17-year career as Maryland’s head coach. Early adversity — a 13-point deficit — was followed by a slow climb back to respectability and eventually celebration, as Maryland beat Virginia in a game the Terrapins had to have.
Afterward, Williams was unable to hold back emotion. He was choked up when he talked about what the 76-65 victory meant for his team, which had lost three consecutive games. He was unable to speak at times when he reflected on his 349th victory at his alma mater, which allowed him to eclipse Lefty Driesell as the men’s basketball program’s all-time winningest coach.
“It was tough at the end” of the game, Williams said. “But I realize where I have been and how great it is to coach here.”
Maryland’s 2002 national championship is Williams’s most celebrated accomplishment. But he is most proud of overcoming NCAA sanctions his first three seasons in College Park and restoring the program’s image.
Much of the Comcast Center crowd remained to watch Nik Caner-Medley hand Williams a game ball on the court and tell Williams,”Sorry, it took us a couple games.” Some players ruffled the coach’s silver hair.
Williams nearly was denied the record again last night. Maryland trailed 13-0, only to claw back — the game was tied at 60 with three minutes to play. The Terrapins’ season hung in the balance because they could not afford to lose four in a row with a game against second-ranked Duke looming on Saturday.
In the final three minutes, Maryland (15-7, 5-4 ACC) played as well as it had all season. And the frenzied crowd of 17,950 was as loud as it had been all year. Center Ekene Ibekwe scored two critical baskets and guard Mike Jones sank a three-pointer during a 13-0 run that sealed the game. Ibekwe finished with 14 points and a career-high 15 rebounds.
“We looked at each other toward the end and said we were not going to lose this game,” said point guard D.J. Strawberry, who scored a career-high 19 points.
The action was enough to drive Williams mad. Jones attempted — and missed — a reverse dunk in the open court in the final six minutes.
Williams could not pull Jones from the game fast enough, but the momentum was already lost when Virginia’s Sean Singletary made a quick three-pointer.
Jones later said that he was not thinking straight and tried an acrobatic move to ignite the crowd. Williams said: “You miss a dunk, you miss a dunk. You miss a 360-degree dunk, then you get shot. . . . I took him out but then put him back in. We all make mistakes.”
Virginia (11-9, 5-5) got strong perimeter play from Singletary and J.R. Reynolds, both of whom scored 18 points. Center Jason Cain added 13 rebounds as the Cavaliers won the rebounding battle, 44-37.
Virginia, one of the biggest surprises in the ACC, scored the game’s first 13 points courtesy of outside shooting and offensive rebounds.
Williams felt his team started flat. Maryland was completely out of sorts and many of the fans seemed incredulous.
“We were in shock,” Strawberry said.
Maryland’s defense started to click before its offense. Strawberry shadowed Singletary, making the standout guard work just to get the ball. Backups Parrish Brown and Sterling Ledbetter combined for four assists and no turnovers.
And Travis Garrison, the senior who had been relegated to a mere role player in recent games, came through with three key baskets when the offense otherwise was stagnant.
“When I was on the bench, I was so amped up,” Garrison said. “I didn’t want to get too amped up. I knew when I got into the game I would explode.”
Reynolds made an open three-pointer to give Virginia a 20-6 lead with 14 1 / 2 minutes remaining in the first half. But Virginia scored only one field goal over the next eight minutes. Said Singletary, “They just wanted it more than we did.”
Maryland responded with its run in the final minutes of the game, which was enough to help its coach reach a milestone he never envisioned.
“You’ve got to appreciate the history of the game and realize why we are in the Comcast Center,” Caner-Medley said. “Giving him that ball is by far the greatest moment of my being here at Maryland. To see the look on his face, words can’t describe it.”