Maryland Defeats N.C. State, 71-60

North Carolina State's Tracy Smith slips between Maryland's Dave Neal and Greivis Vasquez on a drive to the basket.
North Carolina State's Tracy Smith slips between Maryland's Dave Neal and Greivis Vasquez on a drive to the basket. (By Ethan Hyman -- Associated Press)
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By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 2, 2009

RALEIGH, N.C., March 1 -- From the sideline, Maryland Coach Gary Williams stood and watched as North Carolina State forward Tracy Smith backed down his Terrapins once more. For what seemed like the umpteenth time on Sunday night, Smith paid little mind to the two Maryland defenders at his side and sank a short jumper. He was fouled in the process.

With just more than nine minutes remaining in a game the Terrapins were well aware they had to win, Smith provided the Wolfpack with its first lead of the night. Williams sensed the momentum building for the home squad, and yet he remained resolute that his team's approach would prevail.

"I thought the last 10 minutes, really, N.C. State made a good run and tied the game up, but I never felt that we were going to give it away," Williams said. "N.C. State was going to have to take it from us. We just stayed tough and some things went our way, you know, and we got the win."

Indeed, Maryland earned its second road victory of the season last night with a 71-60 win over North Carolina State, distancing itself late from a mediocre squad with which the Terrapins want no comparison drawn.

Maryland (18-10, 7-7 Atlantic Coast Conference) entered the night clinging to slim NCAA tournament hopes. With three games left, the Terrapins knew they likely could afford to lose only once more and thus finish the season with a .500 record in ACC play. By winning Sunday night, Maryland maintained its remaining margin for error. No. 13 Wake Forest visits Comcast Center on Tuesday night.

Junior guard Greivis Vasquez spoke afterward of how desperately his team needed to win, and his offensive performance did much to make victory possible. With the ball in his hands, he knifed into the lane repeatedly, in search of a shot but not hesitant to defer to an open teammate. N.C. State's defense allowed such a plan to succeed, and so Vasquez avidly pursued it.

With 25.8 seconds remaining and Maryland holding a four-point lead, Vasquez drove inside once again and this time finished with a floater in the lane. The shot dropped straight through the net, signaling an end to the night's trial. Vasquez finished with a game-high 33 points.

The N.C. State defense, by design, is not a high-pressure system. Content to afford opponents open looks from the perimeter, the Wolfpack clogged the lane, often with three defenders, and waited.

With three starters standing 6 feet 9, N.C. State dared the Terrapins to enter the post and offer up contested shots. Vasquez frequently plunged into the lane and lured several Wolfpack defenders to his side. When he ran out of room to roam, Vasquez kicked the ball out to the three-point arc, where a teammate stood at the ready.

Dave Neal. Eric Hayes. Landon Milbourne. It didn't matter which Maryland player it was. They often were wide open, and Vasquez found them. He finished with a team-high five assists.

"That's my job as a point guard," Vasquez said. "I have to penetrate and make a play for my team and if not, I can make a layup. But I was just looking for my teammates tonight."

Maryland sustained a lead for three quarters of the game because of all those open looks. The Terrapins shot 48.2 percent from the field and 47.6 percent from three-point range on the night.

But using its superior size down low, N.C. State's post players repeatedly attacked the rim and were rewarded with just enough baskets to stay close. Midway through the first half, Maryland switched to a 3-2 zone defense, but its chief struggle remained. Smith led the Wolfpack with 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting. He also grabbed nine rebounds.

"We knew if they got the ball inside, whether we were playing man or zone, it would be a problem to stop them because they're strong and they have good post moves in there, so we tried to do everything we could to keep the ball from going in there," Williams said.

The Terrapins held just a one-point lead at halftime. Perhaps it would have been too early for desperation to set in at that point in some other contest for some other team. But just as Maryland's players have been cognizant all season of their shortcomings, they also understood the ramifications a loss to N.C. State (15-12, 5-9) could have produced.

"I told them at halftime, if we lose this game, our season's pretty much over," said forward Dave Neal, the team's lone senior. "And I think they took that into consideration, and we came out in that second half and played hard the last 20 minutes. Now our season's still going."

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