Maryland defeated Wake Forest today and in the process earned some respect its coach had insisted all along it was entitled to.
Trailing by seven points with six minutes to play, the Terrapins blasted Wake with an 18-2 spurt and walked away with an impressive 84-76 Atlantic Coast Conference victory.
"I've been saying all along that we've got a real good ball club," Maryland Coach Lefty Driesell said. "Maybe now some people will start to believe me."
Driesell's team, 10-1 and 3-0 in the ACC, has another road game Thursday at North Carolina State. Wake Forest (6-5) is 0-2 in the conference.
"We don't read the papers but coach has been telling us how people have been saying we'll start losing when we play good teams," said Albert King, who helped fuel the comeback with 16 of his 22 points in the second half. "We feel like we've got a lot to prove. Today, we proved something."
As late as 34 minutes into the game, the Terps did not look like they were going to prove much of anything. They had survived playing 13:38 of the first half without King, trailing only 34-33 at the half.
After King picked up his third foul 6:22 into the game, Driesell moved Buck Williams to forward and played Taylor Baldwin in the middle. With Ernest Graham, who finished with 26 points (11-of-15 shooting) and Williams, 15 points, 16 rebounds, the Terrapins played well without King.
Wake was having problems. Center Jim Johnstone was bothered by a sore ankle and leading scorer Mike Helms was only one of seven shooting. But senior guard David Morris, in a reserve role, was perfect on five longrange shots, including a 20-footer at the halftime buzzer for a one-point Wake lead. s
"When Al went to the bench we just said, 'Okay, let's play solid ball until he gets back,'" said Williams, who played his best game since returning to the lineup four games ago after a broken finger. "Ernest and I know we had to pick up some slack."
The whole team had to pick up some slack after Wake came out bombing in the second half. Sophomore forward Alvis Rogers, 22 points, 14 rebounds, was the leader for the Deacons. But it was point guard Benny McKaig, averaging 2.5 points a game, who stunned the Terps. He made three jump shots and a layup off a steal from Dutch Morley to give Wake a 48-40 lead six minutes into the final half.
When backup center Chuck Dahms dunked off a feed from McKaig for a 56-46 Wake lead, the Terps appeared to be in trouble.
"McKaig surprised me," Morley admitted. "I was sloughing off him to try and help out inside and all of a sudden he popped a couple. I didn't expect him to shoot."
Considering that McKaig had shot 11 of 23 to 10 previous games, Morley had a right to be surprised. Nonetheless, with Wake doing what it wanted to offensively, Driesell went for defense, inserting Reggie Jackson for Morely.
"Dutch was having problems on defense," Driesell said. "I needed to make a move. I'll tell you, I thought Reggie won the game for us."
With two steals, two assists and tough defense, Jackson played a major role, but it was King who made the plays that turned things in Maryland's favor.
With the score 68-61, Wake, and 6:05 left, King said: "I looked up and said, "this game's almost over. It was time to suck it up and go."
King did just that. First, he hit a jumper and stole a pass to make it 68-65. Then it was Williams' turn. He blocked a John Hendler jumper, fed Jackson who fed Manning for another three-point play and it was 68-68. Johnstone missed at the other end and Graham swished from 15 feet. It was 70-68 Maryland with 4:08 left.
Johnstone hit a jumper to tie it once more, but that was it for Wake. Manning's drive put the Terps up for good, 72-70, with 3:36 left. Morgan bobbled a pass with three minutes left and Driesell called time and spread the offense. By the time Wake scored again on a Rogers follow shot it was 79-72. There was only 1:12 left and the Terps were home free.
"When we got the lead I think just for a moment our players let down psychologically," Wake Coach Carl Tacy said. "That was all they needed.They got the momentum going and we never could get it back."
"Any win on the road is a big win," Driesell said. "Coming from 10 points down makes it even bigger."