Tony Massenburg hadn't played a basketball game for Maryland in 20 months, but last night, he looked as good as ever.
The 6-foot-9, 230-pound redshirt sophomore, who sat out all of last season and the first seven games of this season scored a career-high 25 points and led the Terrapins to a 82-77 victory over South Carolina in front of 12,575 at Cole Field House.
Massenburg missed last season after being placed on academic probation. This season, he had been practicing with the Terrapins (6-2) but not playing while trying to meet Coach Bob Wade's academic requirements. While Massenburg was in uniform for the first time, guard Keith Gatlin and forward Rodney Walker remained in street clothes.
Gatlin and Walker had not even practiced until last week while also trying to meet Wade's criteria. All three were eligible under university and NCAA standards. Wade said in a statement released before the game that Massenburg had made enough progress to be allowed to play, and that he was waiting on Gatlin's and Walker's first-semester grades before letting them play.
The university's deadline for submission of final first-semester grades is Jan. 4. If it does take that long, Gatlin and Walker would miss Wednesday's game against Arkansas at Cole Field House, but might be able to play in the Terrapins' Jan. 6 game at Missouri.
"My primary concern from the outset has been the academic progress of these young men," Wade said in the statement. "I'm pleased that Tony will be back in action. I'm also hopeful that Keith and Rodney will be able to play soon, however, I want to have the chance to see their final grades before that decision is made."
Maryland led, 46-39, at the half and made it 50-43 before the Gamecocks (5-2) scored eight straight points to take their first lead since early in the game.
Darryl Martin started the run with a basket that demonstrated a recurring problem for Maryland. With several good shot blockers, the Terrapins often have a couple of players trying to block the same shot. If they miss and the shot misses, there often is no one in position to rebound. That is how Martin scored. The rest of the run belonged to John Hudson, who scored inside and out to enable South Carolina to take a 51-50 lead with 15:46 left.
But it lasted only a few seconds. Rudy Archer, who had spent most of the game passing, drove the lane and was fouled. He made both free throws and Maryland never trailed again.
The Gamecocks, who committed five turnovers in a row, found themselves down by 10 a few minutes later, with Massenburg hurting them from all over. Lewis fed him for a dunk, as did Teyon McCoy, and Massenburg made the free throw that went with the second dunk. Then Massenburg moved outside, making a 17-footer and then two free throws for a 61-51 Maryland lead with 11:30 left.
Martin scored 16 points, Terry Dozier 13 and John Hudson 12 for South Carolina, which lost its second straight after opening the season with five consecutive victories.
Freshman Brian Williams had 14 points for Maryland.
Massenburg, who led Maryland with 12 first-half points, made his presence felt early. He kept Derrick Lewis' missed shot alive long enough to allow Lewis to grab the rebound and score to even the game at 2.
The Gamecocks have three players from the state of Maryland -- two of them starters -- so they were ready to roll. The Doziers -- Terry and Perry, who played for Wade when they were all at Dunbar High in Baltimore -- helped South Carolina take an early lead. Perry Dozier's three-point play gave South Carolina an 11-8 edge with 15:20 left in the first half.
The Terrapins had gone to Massenburg and Lewis in the first few minutes. Williams didn't touch the ball in the offensive end in the first six minutes, but after he was fouled on his first shot, he made both free throws that began a 10-0 Maryland run.
The Terrapins pressed after Williams' free throws. Archer, who had eight first-half assists, grabbed a loose ball while on the floor and from there threw a pass to Williams for a jam. Massenburg made two free throws and then blocked Hudson's shot at the other end. Williams converted that into a basket with a hook shot.
Lewis rebounded Terry Dozier's three-point miss, and Archer fed Williams for another dunk for a 20-11 lead with 11:19 left.
South Carolina Coach George Felton called a timeout and switched to a 1-2-2 zone with the 6-9 Terry Dozier out front. That seemed to slow the Terrapins a bit, but the Gamecocks were not able to make much headway. They did cut the lead to 24-19 on a fast-break basket by Tony Shaw. But the Terrapins inbounded quickly and Williams threw ahead to Massenburg. With the ball and ahead of the pack, Massenburg executed a thunderous one-handed dunk.
Dave Dickerson followed with two free throws and Steve Hood scored to give Maryland a 30-19 lead with 6:38 left.
South Carolina pulled to 35-30, but Maryland pushed the lead back to nine. Martin, of Columbia, Md., scored with 30 seconds left in the half to cut the Terrapins' halftime lead to 46-39.