Marcia Richardson made her homecoming to North Carolina a sweet one today by sinking three free throws in the final 25 seconds to clinch Maryland's 84-81 victory over North Carolina State for the Terrapins' fifth Atlantic Coast Conference championship in six years.
The Wolfpack (22-7) had beaten Maryland (25-4) twice this season, but no one ever has beaten the Terrapins three times in one season.
Richardson, who had been in a scoring slump, tied Lea Hakala for team scoring honors with 18, as all six Maryland players scored in double figures. Richardson said, "It (the slump) was affecting me mentally, but my teammates and coaches told me to keep shooting. On the free throws, I can't grip the ball as I'd like to because of some jammed fingers, so I just concentrated on getting a good arc. I don't care what they looked like as long as they went in."
N.C. State had a chance to tie the game at 57 early in the second half, but co-MVP Linda Page missed a jumper and co-MVP Jasmina Perazic and Hakala followed with baskets to open up a six-point Maryland bulge with 13:40 left. Then, the Terrapins went scoreless for 2:25. Turnovers and missed free throws prevented the Wolfpack from capitalizing.
Richardson made three baskets to keep Maryland on top, but came down heavily on her right ankle and had to leave the game temporarily with 6:45 left.
Chequita Wood scored twice inside to make it 75-68, but then Wood and Debbie Lytle each picked up their fourth personals. The Wolfpack tied the game at 75 with four minutes left on a Page floater that gave the sophomore the tournament scoring record (32 today, 100 overall for the league's leading scorer).
Bo Pearman hit a 12-footer and a hook to make it 79-75, Maryland, and Perazic's jumper made it 81-75 with 1:05 to go. State hung tough, cutting the lead to 82-81 with 13 seconds to play after Page scored off a Perazic turnover. Armstrong nearly stole the ball from old Rocky Mount rival Richardson, but was called for a foul and Richardson hit both shots to clinch the victory and break out the Fun Bunch high-fives.
"That call could have been made or not made," N.C. State Coach Kay Yow said. " . . . We lost the game on that break."
Maryland Coach Chris Weller said victories over conquerors N.C. State and North Carolina "wiped our slate clean except for Cheyney. I hope the people who seed the teams for the NCAA tournament notice that."