Every time Maryland dared come close, Thurl Bailey sabotaged the Terrapins' hopes with a base line jumper.
The 6-foot-10 junior forward from Bladensburg High School led a 76 percent shooting performance last night that carried North Carolina State to a 52-38 victory over Maryland before 13,200 at Cole Field House.
Maryland (14-11, 4-9 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) trailed by only four points with six minutes remaining, but took several bad shots and let State guard Dereck Whittenburg, from De Matha, get free for eight of his 14 points. They pushed the Wolfpack into a double-digit lead.
The Terrapins, in losing their fourth straight, were led again by freshman Adrian Branch, who got 12 points but fouled out late in the game. Reserve forwards Herman Veal and Pete Holbert each had eight. Maryland finishes its regular season Saturday against Virginia at Cole Field House.
The Wolfpack (21-7, 7-6) felt last night's victory assured it of an NCAA bid, regardless of what happens in the ACC tournament in March. And for Bailey, Whittenburg and Sidney Lowe, there was the added satisfaction of winning here.
"It would have been hard on us to come home and lose," said Lowe, who also is from De Matha. "Now if we come home and they want to ask us questions, we can look them in the eye because we've got all the answers."
The only answers North Carolina State needed last night came from Bailey and Whittenburg. Bailey made eight of nine shots and four of five free throws for his 20 points. After missing his second shot, he made seven straight, most coming from 12 feet out on either base line.
"I take a lot of those shots every game," Bailey said. "When I get the ball there, I feel like I'm going to score."
Maryland trailed, 25-22, at halftime and fell behind by five points when Bailey started the second period with a base line jumper. Branch got two free throws for Maryland, but Bailey countered with another basket from the base line.
"Thurl killed us," said Holbert. "He was so confident that when he caught the ball on the base line he didn't look to do anything but shoot."
Said Coach Lefty Driesell: "We didn't have anybody who could stop Bailey."
When Bailey wasn't scoring, Whittenburg was. After Veal's turnaround jumper in the lane pulled Maryland within 32-30 with 9:08 to play, Whittenburg sank two free throws for a four-point Wolfpack lead.
Maryland came back with Holbert's jumper from 22 feet to trail by 34-32. But the next play was the key to the game. The Terrapins began to change defenses, and Whittenburg sneaked away from Holbert during the transition and got an uncontested layup for a 36-32 lead with 6:34 remaining. In a slow-paced game, a four-point lead at that juncture loomed large.
"We were gambling, trying to force a turnover," Holbert said. "I came over to trap Sidney and when I did that it left Whittenburg open."
"I knew they were changing defenses," said Whittenburg, "so I snuck back, stayed close to the basket and came back to catch the ball."
His two free throws a minute later pushed State's lead to 38-32 and Chuck Nevitt's slam dunk off a nice lob pass from Lowe made it 40-32. Branch cut the margin to 40-34, but Whittenburg drove the lane for another basket, then hit two free throws and it was 44-34.
"It's just hard to catch up and beat a good ball club when they're hitting everything," Holbert said. State, shooting 52.4 percent on the season, made 19 of 25 shots.
"I'm really disappointed because I thought we could beat this club," said Driesell, who got his first technical foul in two seasons during an eight-point run for State in the first half that helped it turn a 12-11 deficit into a 19-12 lead.
After Veal was called for traveling, Driesell turned to referee Dan Wooldridge and said, "Why do you always have to blow your whistle at this end?" The official answer was the technical foul, which quickly led to four points for the Wolfpack.