In what has become a habit in recent years, No. 3 Maryland slapped aside the No. 21 Demon Deacons early and often, turning what appeared to be a dangerous road trip into an 85-63 rout last night before 13,886 at Joel Coliseum.
While pulling into a first-place tie with Duke in the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Terps (15-3, 5-1) beat Wake Forest for the sixth straight time and seventh in the past eight meetings between the schools. And the Terps, who recorded a three-game sweep of the Demon Deacons by an average of 15 points last year, did it with a display of depth and inside strength that recalled their recent domination of Wake.
The Terps, who won their seventh game in eight tries and are 3-1 on the road in the ACC, put forth their best effort of the season - despite getting only six minutes out of foul-plagued center Lonny Baxter in the first half, and getting a combined two baskets before halftime from guard Juan Dixon and forward Chris Wilcox.
Still, Maryland took a 36-30 lead into the break, on the strength of outstanding contributions from backups Drew Nicholas, Ryan Randle and Tahj Holden and an offensive spark from point guard Steve Blake, who scored seven of his 19 points - an ACC career high - to give the Terps an early lift.
In the second half, all of the Maryland parts came together, and the Demon Deacons (13-6, 3-3) fell apart and appeared to roll over down the stretch.
The Terps extended their lead to 50-39 on a three-pointer by Dixon with 16:37 left, then added a 10-5 run during which five players scored, making it 60-44 with 12:57 to go. After Blake made his third three of the night to put Wake in a 70-53 hole with 6:38 left, the fans started leaving.
"[Wake] didn't look hungry. They didn't look like the same team I've watched on TV the last couple of weeks. They weren't competing like I thought they would," said Dixon, who sparked an excellent defensive effort with five steals and also had 19 points. Dixon needs one steal to become the first ACC player ever to record 1,800 points and 300 steals.
"They might have been thinking 'here we go again,' " Blake added. "We definitely were solid the whole game, no lapses. You're never going to be perfect, but we worked hard to try to be perfect. We're a true team. We're not just one or two people."
Five Terps scored in double figures, led by Dixon and Blake. Baxter recovered from an invisible first half to finish with 12. Holden broke out of a recent scoring slump - he had one basket in his previous three games - by scoring 11 points. Nicholas scored 10 to mark his third consecutive game in double figures.
Darius Songaila led Wake Forest with 14 points. Antwan Scott added 12 points.
As decisive as Maryland was, both in running its half-court offense and its fast break and in hounding Wake Forest at the defensive end, the Demon Deacons were a tentative bunch. They fumbled the ball often, as many of their 17 turnovers were unforced. They began by hitting two of nine shots, and could not put together an impressive run.
The Terps were crisp, taking high-percentage shots, protecting the ball and denying Wake good looks at the basket. Maryland also was sharp at the foul line, where the Terps made 22 of 26 attempts; Dixon was 10 of 11.
"That's as solid as we've played at both ends of the floor all year," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, who moved into eighth place all-time with his 104th ACC victory. "We've had some really good offensive nights, and we've played really good defense. We combined the two tonight, and that's after not playing good defense in the last two games [against Duke and Clemson].
"We either ran our fast break or we ran our half-court offense. We didn't get caught in between. Our bench is getting better."
Holden's reawakening was a welcome sight. The 6-10 junior forward had gone two games without a basket, and had shot 1-for-6 in his previous three games. That was before he converted a tough 6-foot baseline shot, then followed it with a 22-footer from the top of the key to give Maryland a 13-5 lead with 12:45 left in the half.
Blake was the only starter who was productive offensively early. His 18-footer put the Terps in front 15-9 and his three-pointer from the right wing made it 20-14 with 9:06 to go. Then, after Songaila banked in an 8-footer, Wilcox committed his second foul and sat down. But the Demon Deacons would never get closer than four points after leading 4-2.
"We were tight, scared and afraid to make a pass. The only good thing was that we had a great crowd, but we gave them nothing to be excited about," Prosser said. "I was confident that we would not allow the fight to be taken to us at home. And the opposite occurred. I'm very disappointed."