Maryland Coach Lefty Driesell told his players they could make up for their embarrassing loss to Georgia Tech by beating 13th-ranked Wake Forest last night. "If you get out there and beat Wake, everybody will forgive you," Driesell had said.
The Terrapins responded with a 61-56 Atlantic Coast Conference victory at Cole Field House. It was their biggest win of the season.
Freshman forward Adrian Branch scored a game-high 20 points and blocked a shot in the final minute that guaranteed the upset victory before a wildly enthusiastic crowd of 10,050.
"I don't think I've experienced anything bigger than this," Branch said afterward. "We were alive all night. We matched the crowd's enthusiasm. You gotta love it. This is very, very nice."
Wake Forest (14-5, 4-3 in the ACC) got several clutch baskets by sophomore guard Danny Young (16 points) to stay close through the last minute.
But Maryland (12-7, 3-5), behind 60 percent field-goal shooting and 86 percent foul shooting, held its poise at the end, getting superb ball handling from Dutch Morley, Jeff Adkins and Branch.
Morley made all three shots from the field and all seven foul shots for 13 points, and center Charles Pittman scored 10 of his 12 points in the first half as the Terrapins took a 34-32 lead.
The Terrapins never trailed. Wake trailed by eight points in the first half, but tied the game, 42-42, on a hook shot by Jim Johnstone after a Maryland turnover.
Then the excitement began. Adkins made the second of two free throws for a 43-42 Maryland lead with 12:14 remaining. After a Deacon turnover, four Terrapins cleared to the corners and the 6-foot-8 Branch moved down the lane, one against four, for a spectacular gliding basket and a 45-42 lead.
Johnstone countered with another hook. But Morley took off for the basket in the delay offense and scored a layup for a 47-44 lead with 8:30 left.
Jumpers by Young and Mike Helms (eight points) kept the Deacons within 52-50 with 45 seconds to play. After a Deacon timeout, Branch made one of two free throws to increase the lead to 53-50.
With a chance to come within one point, Helms, a 6-4 senior, tried a 20-foot jump shot, but Branch blocked it and dunked the ball at the other end for a 55-50 lead. Branch made four straight free throws and Morley had two more to prevent any Deacon heroics.
"We didn't do too many dumb things tonight," Morley said. "The thing with this team is that we have to play an exceptional ball game every night. Every possession means something. When we get carried away and get out of our pattern, we're not that good."
Part of the pattern last night was to let Branch, a 6-8 player of exceptional agility, go one on one when the opportunity seemed right. "We do have certain set plays, that when Adrian gets the ball, we clear out toward the corners so he can go one-on-one," Adkins said. "He scored several baskets like that tonight."
Branch, Maryland's leading scorer with an average 14 points per game, played 38 minutes and committed only one turnover. He handled the ball as the point man during the second half when a mistake could have been disastrous.
As Wake Coach Carl Tacy said, the Deacon defense was not as good last night as it was when it allowed highly ranked Arkansas only four field goals in the second half en route to a road victory.
"Our defense wasn't the best, but Branch has some pretty gutsy moves for a freshman," Helms said. "He knows he's the guy who's giving them their points, so he looks for his shots."