Maryland 84, Georgia Tech 77
Despite not returning any of its main scorers from a year ago, Maryland knew it had enough experience to weather some crucial instances this season. In last night's 84-77 victory over Georgia Tech in the ACC opener for both teams, that veteran guidance certainly proved decisive against a talented but raw opponent.
Senior guard Drew Nicholas scored a career-high 29 points, showing similar effectiveness from the perimeter as he did driving the lane. For the second straight game, senior center Ryan Randle roared to life in the second half, when he scored 16 of his 20 points.
After not playing for more than two weeks following a lull in Maryland's schedule and a death in his family, senior forward Tahj Holden didn't start for the first time this season and played perhaps his most effective game -- 11 points, 4 rebounds, 3 blocks and 3 steals.
Most importantly, the seniors' contributions came when it mattered most. Georgia Tech, for whom freshmen and sophomores played all but 24 minutes, went without a field goal for more than five minutes late in the game, during which Maryland turned a one-point lead into a double-figure advantage. Seniors scored 19 of the final 21 points for the No. 23 Terrapins (6-3 overall, 1-0 ACC).
"When you have seniors, that's an advantage," Maryland Coach Gary Williams said. "Those guys have been through it. They know what it takes . . . If we continue to do that in pressure situations -- we didn't do that the whole game -- but when we had to we did, and that's really a good sign at this time of the year."
After Marvin Lewis's three-pointer with 6 minutes 15 seconds to play cut Maryland's lead to 65-64, Randle answered immediately with a turnaround shot over 7-foot-1 Luke Schenscher. After Jamar Smith made a steal at the other end, Nicholas made a layup over Schenscher.
"I love what Drew is doing out there," Williams said. "You saw how aggressive he was taking the ball to the basket. He didn't make them all, but what that does is, you can't come running at him every time he catches the ball. He's a threat to drive the ball now. That's something he's added to his game."
But Nicholas's best weapon is his jumper, which, at its best, seems to have unlimited range. With Maryland up 69-65 with 3:37 to play, senior guard Steve Blake set a strong screen for Nicholas in front of the Georgia Tech bench about 24 feet from the basket. Freshman John Gilchrist found Nicholas, who buried a three-pointer to match Maryland's biggest lead to that point. Maryland extended the lead to 79-67 before B.J. Elder's three-pointer -- Georgia Tech's first field goal since Lewis's with 6:15 to go -- but it was too late.
"It looked like it was kind of deep. I was surprised when he was shooting it," Georgia Tech Coach Paul Hewitt said of Nicholas's shot. "I was looking for a long rebound and a transition basket, but he dropped it in."
Georgia Tech (5-4, 0-1) stayed close by catching the Terrapins in transition. The Yellow Jackets scored five first-half baskets within 10 seconds after Maryland scored.
"We were so caught up in trying to get into our press, and they were blowing past us," Nicholas said. "In the second half, we went back to our man-to-man defense."
Freshman Travis Garrison started in place of Holden, but that certainly didn't minimize the senior's impact. While Williams has not determined whether this move will be permanent, Holden showed again how much more effective he is coming off the bench, a move he suggested to Williams when he returned from his family's funeral and was a little rusty.
"You look at when Tahj has played really well for us, it's been coming off the bench," Williams said. "I want to see what's best for Tahj this year. I've always thought the seniors deserve a little more patience because of what they've done for the program. But if Tahj is comfortable playing that role, it's great for us."
Terrapins Note: Senior swingman Calvin McCall sprained his left ankle in practice Saturday and was not in uniform. He wore a soft boot on the foot but is expected to return for Maryland's next game, Saturday against Wagner.