WICHITA, KAN — WICHITA, Kan. -- They played a perfect game, the kind that was thrown in the Maryland Terrapins' faces during the Atlantic Coast Conference season. But last night, they shot like Duke and defended like North Carolina.
And when the second round of the NCAA Midwest Regional was over here at the Kansas Coliseum, they danced like Cinderella. The next stop might be Dallas, but this was Oz. Fantasy. Fiction. Unforgettable.
With a performance that defied logic, a performance that even Gary Williams could hardly believe himself, 10th-seeded Maryland tore apart second-seeded and eighth-ranked Massachusetts, 95-87, to advance to the Sweet 16.
"This ranks as good as any win I've ever had," said Williams, whose team will play third-seeded Michigan, an 84-79 winner over Texas, at Reunion Arena on Friday night. "Each situation is different, but it's a tremendous feeling. As I get older, I appreciate them more."
It marks the first time since the 1984-85 season that Maryland advanced past the second round, and the third time that Williams has coached a team this far. It completes an amazing turnaround that saw the Terps go from next-to-last in the ACC last season to the school's first NCAA tournament bid in six years.
It was a stunning performance by the Terps (18-11), who overcame a 10-point deficit with less than 17 minutes remaining. Maryland shot a mind-boggling 19 of 27 from the field in the second half, scoring on 10 straight possessions in one stretch.
"We've never had a team shoot 60 percent against us, or 70 percent in a half," said Massachusetts coach John Calipari, whose Minutemen were a 20-1 shot to win this year's NCAA tournament. "I can't tell you the last time it happened. They wanted the game worse than we did. They were very good today."
And very balanced. All six players who scored for the Terps were in double figures: freshman center Joe Smith had 22 points, but it was the play of his less-publicized teammates that made the difference. Duane Simpkins scored a career-high 20 points. Exree Hipp scored 19. Keith Booth had 14 points and seven rebounds. Johnny Rhodes had 10 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds.
But the player who made the biggest difference yesterday was sophomore forward Mario Lucas, who started a 38-16 run with a confidence-building three-point shot for the sagging Terps and who ended it with a three-point play that gave Maryland an 82-68 lead with 7:05 left. Lucas started the second half because Booth picked up his fourth personal on a technical foul late in the first half.
"I struggled in the first half," said Lucas, 3-for-8 overall. "My team needed me today. I just stepped up and hit an important shot. I think Coach Williams deserves all the credit. He got us ready to play. We felt that if we got them on a neutral court and didn't have Atlantic 10 officials like we did the last time, the outcome would be different."
Lucas was referring to a 94-80 defeat to Massachusetts in the championship game of the Abdow's Holiday Classic at the Springfield (Mass.) Civic Center back in late December. In what turned out to be the most one-sided defeat for the Terps this season, foul trouble on Booth, Smith and Rhodes proved costly, as the Minutemen went to the free-throw line 42 times to break open a close game.
It didn't look as if the Terps would be able to get revenge yesterday, when the Minutemen erased a 30-24 Maryland lead with a 13-0 run and then suckered Booth into a seemingly costly technical foul with 1:47 left in the first half. Massachusetts built its lead up to nine, 43-34. But Maryland showed its mettle without Booth, arguably its guttiest player, by cutting the deficit to 43-38 at halftime.
"I told the team that we didn't have to win the game in the first half," said Williams. "We got it to five and I thought that was the key for the rest of the game. I told them they don't send anyone to Dallas at halftime."
Said Massachusetts forward Donta Bright, a sophomore from Dunbar and Booth's first cousin: "I don't know what happened, but we left our game in the locker room at halftime. And Maryland came out with a passion."
That passion took awhile to grow. After freshman center Marcus Camby blocked Lucas at one end and sailed in for a dunk over Simpkins at the other, the Minutemen were ahead, 54-44. But Lucas' three-pointer, only his second this season, started the Terps on what turned into an incredible 7 1/2 -minute stretch. Another dunk by Camby, who would finish with a career-high 32 points and 10 rebounds, put Massachusetts ahead by nine.
But Maryland kept firing away. A three-point play by Smith. A three-point shot by Hipp. A 15-footer by Lucas. Another three-pointer by Hipp to push the Terps ahead, 59-57, with 13:20 remaining. After the teams traded leads three times, the last on a scoop by Bright that put UMass ahead 65-64, Maryland became even more unconscious.
Said Massachusetts guard Derek Kellogg, after the Minutemen surrendered more points than they had all season, "We couldn't stop them at all."
It started with a jam in the lane by Hipp, who had 15 of his points in the second half. It continued with a layup by Hipp. Smith stepped out beyond the three-point line and fired in his second of the year. Simpkins, who made all four of his threes yesterday, hit one for a 74-65 lead. Maryland's run was momentarily stopped with a drive by Lou Roe, but continued with a dunk by Smith.
"We played the way we are capable," said Smith, the debacle at North Carolina State and the disappointment at Clemson a distant memory. "Our team worked hard all year. To be in this type of situation now is rewarding. The ACC got us ready for this tournament."
And now the Terps will get ready for the Sweet 16. If they think the spotlight was big here, it will be huge by the time they get to Dallas. But there will be no pressure on a team that was supposed to be a year, and maybe two, away. They ripped up the timetable and trashed one of the nation's best defensive teams in the process.
"Nobody expected this from us," said Simpkins. "Everybody picked Massachusetts. Dick Vitale on ESPN said we had no chance. It kind of ticks you off."
And they went out to play the perfect game. In the land of Oz.