Boston College 71
Facing another tie score last night, Maryland guard Chris McCray knew that the team's mood for the next month hinged on the remaining five minutes.
The Terrapins do not play another game for 11 days and won't face another ACC opponent for 26 days. If the 21st-ranked Terps did not eke out a gritty, 73-71 victory against conference newcomer Boston College last night, McCray was one player who did not want to think of the alternative.
"Not with Coach [Gary Williams] on your side for two weeks with no games," acknowledged McCray.
Instead of dropping its ACC opener, Maryland welcomed Boston College to the conference with a physical game before a hostile Comcast Center crowd of 17,950 and a victory that likely will pay dividends later this season. In beating sixth-ranked Boston College, Maryland (7-2) can claim a victory over a top-10 program after losing its two previous games this season to ranked opponents.
The Terps got strong interior play from Ekene Ibekwe, who finished with 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting, and overcame early foul trouble by point guard D.J. Strawberry, who grabbed a late-game steal that helped push Maryland in front by four points with less than two minutes left.
But the outcome was still in doubt until the final seconds. With 2.2 seconds remaining, all Maryland had to do was inbound the ball to secure the victory. But Nik Caner-Medley and McCray did not see eye to eye and Caner-Medley's pass trickled out of bounds untouched, giving Boston College a chance to tie the game.
Eagles guard Louis Hinnant inbounded from underneath the basket but overthrew all of his teammates.
"I think we're on our way," Williams said. "We're not there yet."
Boston College (6-2, 0-1) had averaged about twice as many free throw attempts as its opponents. But last night, Maryland made more free throws (19) than the Eagles attempted (15). Boston College made only five free throws.
"It was just mental," said Boston College forward Craig Smith, who made 11 of 15 shots to finish with a game-high 23 points.
It might have appeared unusual to see Boston College warming up at Comcast Center, but the extra emphatic fist pump Williams offered the crowd upon his entrance signaled the start of the ACC season. Much like it did last night, the Eagles' offense typically revolved around two preseason Wooden Award candidates, Jared Dudley and Smith, forwards who combined for 35 points.
"That's as disciplined as I've seen a team in getting the ball to its players inside," Williams said.
It did not take long for Dudley to ingratiate himself with the crowd.
After the first basket, Dudley turned to the fans and yelled, "Shut up!" As a result, the crowd greeted the junior with pleasantries that it usually reserves for special guests like Duke's J.J. Redick.
"It was a real war," Ibekwe said.
Strawberry spent the final 11 minutes 17 seconds of the first half on a seat near Williams after picking up his second foul. Williams pointed to his forehead when Strawberry drew the second foul, as if to tell the converted point guard that he has to think before being aggressive defensively.
Strawberry's absence changed the tenor of the first half for Williams, who was forced to alternate between two junior college transfers, Parrish Brown and Sterling Ledbetter, until halftime. Both point guards are better natural fits for the position than Strawberry, but both have struggled adjusting to the Division I level.
They were more than efficient in the first half, during which they combined to play 12 minutes while recording two assists and no turnovers. One of Brown's assists came on a three-on-one fast break, when he flipped a pass to a streaking Caner-Medley, who converted a left-handed dunk to give Maryland a four-point lead.
Forward Travis Garrison was back in the starting lineup after averaging a double-double in his last three games. But it was fellow front court player Ibekwe who grabbed control of the first half, scoring Maryland's first six points en route to a 15-point half. Ibekwe had twice as many points as any of his teammates until McCray made a basket with just more than 12 minutes remaining in the game.
Last night's was a game Maryland players won't soon forget.
"It definitely helps our confidence," said McCray. "It definitely was not an upset, though. Nobody loses at home in the ACC."