Terrapins Shake Off Wake

20th Win of Season Puts Maryland In ACC Semifinals: Maryland 75, Wake Forest 64

Atlanta's Georgia Dome plays host to this year's ACC tournament that features three local schools and five nationally ranked teams.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 14, 2009; Page E01

ATLANTA, March 13 -- Early Friday afternoon, as the Maryland Terrapins executed their walk-through at a ballroom in the Westin Peachtree Plaza Hotel, Coach Gary Williams prodded forwards Dave Neal and Landon Milbourne in hopes of spurring the performance his team direly needed.

Hours later, the two Maryland players seated to Williams's left successfully had made their way back into the coach's good graces. The Terrapins had just knocked off second-seeded Wake Forest, 75-64, in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament and made a convincing argument for inclusion in next week's NCAA tournament.

Neal and Milbourne, the two players Williams specifically called out, made significant contributions. Neal tallied 10 points, including a crucial three-pointer late in the game after Maryland's lead had been trimmed to single digits, and six rebounds. Milbourne pulled down 11 rebounds to supplement his eight points.

"Coach looked at me and Dave, and he said me and Dave were 0-fers in the Georgia Dome for defensive rebounds," Milbourne said. "I took that to heart and tried to go out there and get every rebound that came to me. I took that real seriously."

That response, Williams said, is what differentiates his team from some others. On Friday night, Maryland's attitude separated the Terrapins from Wake Forest right from the opening tip. The Demon Deacons were sluggish and did not become fully engaged until it was too late.

Junior guard Greivis Vasquez took advantage on the offensive end, recording 22 points, 8 rebounds and 9 assists.

The win over No. 8 Wake Forest (24-6) gave the Terrapins (20-12) their third victory over a top 10 opponent this season, which will help negate a poor road record and losses to Virginia and Morgan State in the eyes of the tournament selection committee. But after advancing to Saturday's ACC semifinals, where the Terps will play No. 9 Duke, Williams instructed his players not to discuss anything NCAA tournament-related.

Postseason plans could wait for another day. Williams wanted his team to maintain its newly honed focus.

Neal said the Terrapins remained aggressive on offense for "the whole 40 minutes," a characteristic that was absent the last time these teams met. And nowhere was that more evident than in the rebounding department. Wake Forest held a decisive height advantage yet was slow to the ball most of the night. Maryland outrebounded the Demon Deacons, 44-40.

"We were just more hungry than them," sophomore guard Cliff Tucker said. "We knew what was on the line. We knew that if we lost this one, we were probably headed back to the NIT, so we had more on the line today. Everybody was more hungry and more focused."

Winning two ACC tournament games had been Maryland's sole focus since the team fell at Virginia in its regular season finale. The loss prevented Maryland from finishing with a .500 record in conference play and placed the Terrapins on unstable ground in regard to its NCAA tournament hopes.

But during the latter part of the season, Maryland proved capable of quickly addressing its deficiencies. The team struggled to break down zone defenses in its final two regular season games, yet crisply deconstructed the one North Carolina State implemented in Thursday night's opening-round triumph.

"It's one thing as a coach to look at the video of a game and say we should have driven more or somehow we've got to get to the rim," Williams said. "Players go, 'Okay, sure.' And then there's no change. Well, these guys are willing to change. We had to do some things offensively to be more aggressive and we were just willing to do that."

The Terrapins made a few defensive adjustments as well. Content to allow Wake Forest to shoot from the perimeter, Maryland packed the lane with a 3-2 zone and concentrated on containing the Demon Deacons' front court. Wake Forest forward James Johnson tallied 20 points and 12 rebounds, but his efforts alone did not suffice. The Demon Deacons made just three of 25 three-point attempts.

"They've only got, like, three shooters so our goal was to pack it in and get them to shoot the wrong shots from the wrong people and get the rebounds and go with it," sophomore forward Dino Gregory said. "And that's what we did tonight."

Neal and Milbourne made specific adjustments of their own. Taking heed of the mocking nickname Williams awarded them earlier in the day, the duo combined for nine defensive rebounds against Wake Forest.

"We didn't have any defensive rebounds in the first game Thursday night," Milbourne said. "He called us out, and we stepped up to the plate tonight."

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