Maryland's D.J. Strawberry could not wait for another chance to play Florida State after he felt the Seminoles embarrassed his team more than three weeks ago. But foul trouble forced the senior to sit for most of the first half last night and helplessly watch the Terrapins waste an early lead.
"I thought, 'When the second half starts, I'm just going to go crazy,' " Strawberry said.
After a scoreless first half, Strawberry started the second half with an energy burst to spark a decisive run that helped Maryland pull away from the Seminoles, 73-55. The victory was Maryland's fourth straight win by double digits and moved the Terps closer to their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2004.
Strawberry called the 17-point loss at Florida State, which dropped the Terrapins to 2-5 in ACC play, "rock bottom." His second-half play last night helped Maryland reach its highest point of the season.
For the first time in 12 months, Maryland (21-7, 7-6) has a winning conference record. Last night's victory was particularly important because Maryland's next two opponents, North Carolina and Duke, are expected to offer significant challenges.
But the Terrapins at least have some margin for error after using a 12-0 run to open the second half to spoil any chance for Florida State (17-11, 5-9), which lost its fifth straight game.
Maryland's starters spent much of the first half in foul trouble, watching from the bench as Coach Gary Williams was whistled for a technical foul, his first since March 2005. When the starters returned to the court for the start of the second half, they quickly took control of the game.
Strawberry, who missed his only shot during eight minutes of action in the first half, made Maryland's first three field goals of the second half: a bank shot, a layup and a resounding one-handed dunk in transition.
"They scored six straight buckets at one point off of turnovers or quick shots," Florida State's Al Thornton said. "When you come to play at Maryland, and you get down by 12, you're in trouble."
Williams knows his team plays best when it passes the ball well, and rarely has it passed any better than last night. The Terrapins collected assists on 23 of their 27 field goals; freshman guards Greivis Vasquez and Eric Hayes had a combined 15 assists and three turnovers. No one benefited more from the deft passing of Hayes than reserve big man Bambale Osby, who scored a career-high 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting.
"He spoon-fed me all night long," Osby said. "Doing this is just a confidence builder."
The raucous crowd of 17,950 that welcomed its team back from a successful two-game road trip was fully charged throughout the second-half run. The Terrapins held Florida State without a field goal for the first 6 minutes 30 seconds of the half. And a three-pointer by James Gist from the top of the key lifted Maryland to a 15-point advantage and all but crushed Florida State's hopes to win, and perhaps to make the NCAA tournament.
The Seminoles have not been the same since losing their point guard, Toney Douglas, to a broken hand. Florida State's Thornton, the conference's second-leading scorer and a potential first-round NBA draft pick, made a futile attempt to carry the Seminoles by scoring 23 points and grabbing 15 rebounds.
Foul trouble quickly took its toll on the Terrapins in the first half. All five starters finished the half with two fouls. The game's first four fouls were called against Maryland players. When one finally was called against the Seminoles, Williams turned to the fans and emphatically waved his hands and implored them to give the officials a mock cheer.
Vasquez made a three-pointer from the corner with eight minutes remaining in the half to give the Terps a 29-21 advantage, their largest of the half. The Terrapins spent the next 14 possessions, a span that stretched nearly the remainder of the half, committing fouls, missing shots or turning the ball over. Maryland missed 11 consecutive field goals and one free throw during the scoreless stretch that allowed Florida State to creep back into the game.
The crowd booed the officials as they left the court at halftime. Five minutes into the second half, however, many of the fans were on their feet because of the run started by Strawberry.
"We knew that if we jumped on them and got after them with a lot of intensity and energy," Strawberry said, "they would not be able to handle it."