This was the real Adrian Branch: pure one on one, and none of that three-point jump-shooting stuff. This was Branch in the lane, Branch on the base line, Branch spinning and driving his way for 17 points in the second half and 22 for the game.
And when three defenders surrounded Branch on Maryland's final possession, Len Bias, who was open just left of the foul line, made a 17-foot jumper with two seconds left that gave the Terrapins a 52-51 victory over 15th-ranked Tennessee-Chattanooga tonight in a first-round game of the NCAA's Midwest Regional.
Maryland (20-9) outscored the Moccasins, 11-1, in the last 3:43 in ending Chattanooga's 14-game winning streak, the second-longest in the nation.
Maryland advances to the second round for a 6:45 p.m. game Saturday against No. 1 Houston, which has the longest streak at 22 games.
"It's been a long time since we've come back like that," Maryland Coach Lefty Driesell said. "I told you earlier this week that nobody could guard Adrian Branch one on one."
Branch, the 6-foot-8 sophomore from De Matha High School, is Maryland's leading scorer with 18.5 points per game. But he scored only five points in the first half.
The "Special" offense, which sends Branch around a double pick, wasn't working.
"The Special has been our bread and butter all year," said guard Jeff Adkins. "When it wasn't working, I thought there was no way we could win."
So, with Maryland trailing, 30-18, at halftime on 32-percent shooting, Driesell went to the "Get" offense, designed to get the ball to any of the four big men--Branch, Bias, center Ben Coleman or forward Ed Farmer.
In that setup, Branch made a jumper, Bias a jumper, Coleman two inside baskets and Branch another jumper. The Terrapins cut a 14-point deficit to 38-31 with 13 minutes to play.
"We used that offense just long enough for Adrian to get hot," said Adkins. "Then, we went to the "drop."
That's the offense in which Maryland sends four players to the base line while Branch handles the ball in the back court. It dropped Chattanooga flat.
From that alignment, Branch scored on an off-balance, one-handed jumper that cut it to 38-33. A belly-up push shot made it 40-35 with 10:27 left.
But the Terrapins fell apart for a few minutes on defense. Bias dropped a pass that resulted in Skip Clark's length-of-the floor layup. Farmer missed on Maryland's next possession and Gerald Wilkins--brother of Dominique Wilkins--made an easy bank shot for a 44-35 lead as the Terrapins failed to get back on defense.
The Moccasins (26-4) held a 50-41 lead with 3:43 left when Coleman made a seven-foot jumper. The Terrapins kept getting Branch the ball, and he kept driving inside and getting off a shot or getting fouled.
Branch hit three straight free throws to make it 50-46 with 2:09 left, one coming after Clark missed a back-door layup. Maryland got the ball back again when Willie White stepped out of bounds with the ball. Coleman missed a shot, but Adkins followed with a layup for 50-48 with 1:42 left.
"We were losing our composure," said White, one of three players who tried unsuccessfully to guard Branch.
After a Maryland timeout with 1:06 to play, the Moccasins, in a delay offense, made the mistake of passing to Clark, a 50 percent foul shooter. As soon as Clark touched the ball, Driesell pointed for Adkins to foul him. Clark bounced the free throw off the back rim and Branch grabbed the rebound.
The Terrapins took a final timeout with 28 seconds left and almost botched the play that called for taking the last shot. Clark knocked the ball away from Adkins, but it went out of bounds with six seconds left.
On the inbounds play, Adkins passed to Bias.
"They were all going for Adrian," Bias said. "I took one dribble looking to pass. I thought Adrian would get free for the last shot. But I knew the play started with six seconds left and there wasn't much time. Plus, I was open. I knew it was good as soon as I let it go. I just put both hands up in the air."
Tennessee-Chattanooga had one final play, but Stan Lawrence was called for walking and it was over.
Branch's offense was obviously important--he made six of seven shots as the Terrapins shot 67 percent in the second half--but so was the defense that picked up intensity in the second half. The Moccasins had balanced scoring, but no player had more than 11 points (Wilkins and Stan Strickland).
Still, the talk after the game was all about Branch, whose game changed markedly when the Atlantic Coast Conference adopted the three-point basket and the 30-second shot this season. During much of the ACC season, Branch set up 20 feet from the basket. With a 30-second clock, the team didn't always have time to run a play especially for him.
In the second half tonight, the Terrapins ran the play over until Branch was where they wanted him. Also, he didn't take a single shot from beyond 19 feet.
When was the last time Maryland ran the "drop?"
"We hardly ever ran it in ACC games," Branch said.
White had played with Branch last summer when both tried out for a team that toured China. He knew it would be difficult for him to stay with Branch who is five inches taller at 6 feet 8.
"We used Skip, Gerald and me on Adrian, but he's taller than all of us," White said. "All he did was drive as close as possible and jump over us.