.500 assured, Terps savor 'lost' season


BLACKSBURG, Va. -- Even if the score hadn't been visible, the whoops from outside the Maryland Terrapins' locker room and the broad grin across coach Gary Williams' face would have told the story.

For the record, the Terps beat Virginia Tech, 82-67, before 6,472 at Cassell Coliseum.

But what they gained was so much more than just a mere victory on the won-lost ledger.

Last night's win was Maryland's 14th of the year, against 11 losses, and ensures that the Terps will do no worse than break even this season, a notion that was laughable for many when the season began, and heresy when point guard Walt Williams broke his leg a month ago.

But while most teams and coaches reject the implication of mediocrity that a .500 season presents, the scrappy, overachieving Terps wrapped their arms around it last night.

"We just talked about getting a .500 season," said a beaming Gary Williams. "That's been a motivational thing for us."

"We got to 14. This feels so great," said sophomore guard Kevin McLinton. "A lot of people sold us short this year and to accomplish this is just great."

"A lot of people just put us down at the beginning of the season, and they really put us down when we lost Walt," said junior forward Vince Broadnax.

"But we hung in there and stuck it out."

Last night's game was no exception.

It mirrored the Clemson game earlier this month, in which Maryland forced turnovers early and built a lead, then watched the advantage and the game slip away because of fouls.

The Terps forced 17 first-half turnovers and led by as many as 12 points in the opening stanza, as their pressure drew Virginia Tech (10-14) into miscues.

"It's probably to our advantage when the game gets chaotic, but we were a part of that chaos," said Williams.

"We knew today was a very winnable game, especially if we turned up the defensive pressure," said Broadnax, who had 16 points, eight rebounds and two steals.

But when center Cedric Lewis picked up his third and fourth fouls in the first 2:40 of the second half, and Broadnax and McLinton got their third fouls within two minutes of Lewis, the stage was seemingly set for a repeat of Clemson.

In fact, Virginia Tech narrowed the gap from a 14-point bulge when Lewis left to just four at 58-54, when junior forward Garfield Smith hitched the Terps on his back and took them for a ride.

Smith, a 6-foot-6 junior college transfer from the Bronx, by way of Coffeysville (Kan.) Community College, led Maryland on an 11-1 run with seven points on three short jumpers and a free throw.

Smith scored 18 of his career-high 24 points in the second half, after Williams had given him some pointed words about asserting himself.

"I was really disappointed in his aggressiveness early on. I told him to just take it to the basket more and he responded," said Williams.

Smith said he wasn't looking to score to make up for Lewis' absence, but to pick up the rebounding slack for the senior, whose three blocks allowed him to set an Atlantic Coast Conference record for blocked shot average in a season.

Even if he does not block a shot in his last three games, Lewis will do no worse than an average of 4.7 per game, which surpasses former Virginia center Ralph Sampson's 4.6.

Lewis is second nationally to Brigham Young's Shawn Bradley in swats with 132, which is more than every team in the ACC except Clemson.

"It's not something that I think about or plan," said Lewis. "It's just timing, I guess."

Sort of like the Maryland team. No one could have thought about or planned to be on the verge of a winning season, but good timing and hard work have put the Terps there.

Nevada-Las Vegas forward Larry Johnson said last year, after the Rebels had destroyed Duke for the national title, that while all the pejorative adjectives about UNLV had been thrown about, folks would have to call them champions.

No one can call the Terps champions this year, but they can't be called losers now either.

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