COLLEGE PARK -- When Walt Williams took a seat on the Maryland bench a little more than seven minutes into the second half last night against Wake Forest, his four fouls were just as important as his 32 points.
While the time he spent there -- 3:12 to be exact -- might have cost the senior guard a chance at the school scoring record, his absence proved even more significant for the Terrapins.
Having led the Demon Deacons by as many as 11 points earlier, and by six when he went out, Maryland predictably fell apart without the ACC's leading scorer. Though he would give the Terps the lead one more time after he returned, and finish with a career-high 39 points, Maryland wound up losing, 86-76.
The defeat was the eighth straight for Maryland (7-9, 0-6) and ruined a performance that was reminiscent of the 41 points scored by Len Bias in a similar defeat at Duke in 1986. It was the fourth straight game in which Williams has scored more than 30 points, and the fourth-highest total by a Maryland player.
"We have to play 40 minutes with what we have," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, whose team will try to break its losing streak Saturday at home against Clemson. "Injuries and all that stuff -- you just have to make up your mind that you are going hard for 40 minutes. I thought Walt had a great game offensively. It is a shame he was in foul trouble down the stretch."
"It's definitely frustrating," said Williams, who shot 15 of 21 from the field, including five of seven three-pointers and a couple of spectacular dunks. "I didn't know how many points I had, but the fouls hurt. Some of them were silly fouls. If I had stayed in the game, I felt we would have won."
At the time of Williams' fourth foul, with 12:18 to play, the Terps had seen their 59-48 lead about to get chopped to 59-53 on a pair of free throws by Phil Medlin. With Williams on the bench, the Terps quickly lost the lead and an immeasurable amount of confidence.
"It's hard to say if we would have won the game if Walt didn't get in foul trouble, but when he went out after playing such a great game, we were wondering, 'What are we going to do now?' " said junior guard Kevin McLinton.
The answer was not much, especially against a talented, yet enigmatic, Wake Forest team. Behind senior forward Chris King, who nearly matched Williams by finishing with 31 points, the Demon Deacons completed a 15-4 run to tie the game at 63 on a rebound follow by King.
A pair of free throws by Rodney Rodgers gave Wake Forest (10-4, 3-3) a 65-63 lead seconds before Williams returned, but he immediately hit another three-point shot to send Maryland into the lead. It proved short-lived.
"When he came out of the game, we definitely tried to take it to them," said King, who scored most of his points on medium-range jump shots against a defense designed to cut off Rogers (16 points) inside. "We settled down and we got our confidence back. When he came back, we just wanted to try to get him to pick up his fifth."
That didn't happen, but Maryland's comeback fell short. Wake Forest pushed its lead to 77-70 and after the Terps closed to within 77-74, a three-point shot by King gave the Demon Deacons some breathing room with a little more than two minutes left.
Williams -- who else? -- cut the deficit to four, 80-76, when he stuck back a miss by McLinton. Following a missed one-and-one Rogers with 61 seconds to play, Maryland had its last chance. But Williams and McLinton missed three-point shots, and Chris Kerwin blew his second straight layup. The Deacons scored the last six points to secure their second straight ACC win.
"If there has ever been a team that dodged bullet after bullet after bullet after bullet, it would have been our team tonight," said Wake Forest coach Dave Odom. "Yet through all this, I have got to say that this was our best win of the season. If we did not have a winning character, we may very well have lost the basketball game."
Winning character aside, Williams' foul trouble probably was the most important reason why the Demon Deacons survived last night. Another factor was Wake Forest's 35 of 58 shooting from the field, including 14 of 17 by King. But Williams' performance, as well as his absence during that three-minute stretch, overshadowed all else.
"I don't think I've ever been against a player better than Walt Williams was tonight, unless it was John Lucas when I was coaching high school in North Carolina," said Odom. "That was ** as fine a performance as I've seen. I told my team that he was going to try for 50 tonight."
Williams, whose previous high was 33 in a victory over North Carolina two years ago, fell short of Ernest Graham's school record of 44 points. But more significantly, Maryland fell short of getting its first ACC victory this year and breaking the skids on this long losing streak. Bring on Clemson. Please.
NOTES: The Terps were without freshman F Geno Soto, who was held out while appealing his academic eligibility. Soto, who would have taken the place of injured Garfield Smith (fractured left tibia) in the rotation, is expected to have his status determined by Saturday's game.