COLLEGE PARK — COLLEGE PARK -- Whenever his career ends at the University of Maryland, it will be called The Joe Smith Era. And whenever anybody recalls his time as a Terrapin, they will talk about what he did last night.
In one of the most dominating performances ever by a Maryland player, the sophomore All-American outdid nearly everything he already has done in the previous and often sensational 49 games. In fact, it will be hard to top.
Smith scored 29 points, grabbed 21 rebounds and blocked seven shots in leading the fifth-ranked Terps to a 71-62 victory over No. 15 Virginia before a sellout crowd of 14,500 at Cole Field House and a national television audience.
The rebound total, which included eight on the offensive boards, was his career high, one more than he had last year against Florida State. The number of blocked shots tied his career high and the point total, which included eight of Maryland's last 12, was the most he had scored in an Atlantic Coast Conference game and four off his career high.
"It was Joe Smith Day," said junior forward Exree Hipp. "Joe Smith to the rescue."
It was no small coincidence that the latest and, with little question, greatest performance by Smith at Maryland came on ESPN, which has been the showcase for some of the 6-foot-10 center's best games.
Nor was it by chance that Smith rebounded -- literally and figuratively -- from his worst offensive game to have one of his best. Smith scored a career-low six points against Duke Saturday, but made two blocks in the waning moments to preserve a two-point win.
"It affected me a lot," Smith said of the Duke game, during which he failed to score a basket the entire second half. "I went 2-for-12 [actually 2-for-10] and I'm not used to that. That will definitely affect any player."
Said Maryland coach Gary Williams: "That shows the kind of player Joe is. He didn't have a very good game offensively against Duke, but he didn't let it bother him. He showed why he's a great player."
Against a team that forced him into his worst shooting night a year ago (3-for-19), Smith made nine of 13 shots last night. He hit 11 of 13 free throws, including six in the final 3:33 as the Terps broke open a close game.
The ACC win was the sixth straight for Maryland (17-3, 7-1), which matched its best start overall since 1979-80. It also put the Terps into first place in the ACC, a half-game ahead of No. 2 North Carolina and two games up on Virginia (12-6, 5-3). The Heels play at Duke tonight.
"They got stronger as the game went on," said Virginia coach Jeff Jones, who punched a blackboard in frustration after the game and broke his left hand. "You can see a difference in their confidence. Last year, I wouldn't say they might have wilted, but they may have pressed. Tonight they knew what they had to do."
With their perimeter shooting ice-cold -- junior guards Johnny Rhodes and Duane Simpkins were a combined 8-for-22 while Hipp was as he said, "0-for-the-rim," -- the Terps went inside to Smith and fellow sophomore Keith Booth.
The 6-foot-5 forward from Dunbar, coming off a career-high 22-point performance against the Blue Devils, finished with 15 points on seven-of-10 shooting. Simpkins and Rhodes each added 10, with Simpkins hitting a crucial pair of free throws with 27 seconds left to give Maryland a 67-62 lead.
"That's what a point guard is supposed to do if he hasn't been hitting his shots the whole game," said Simpkins, who has now made 21 straight free throws and 24 of 25 to become the ACC's percentage leader. "With the way we were shooting, we needed to get the ball inside."
After leading by as many as nine in the first six minutes, Maryland didn't expect to blow out the Cavaliers. That doesn't happen very often in this series, especially when the Terps are at home. The last three games here each ended in a two-point victory, including last year's regular-season win that helped Maryland earn its NCAA tournament invitation.
"I told the guys before the game that we should come out with the same attitude," said Simpkins.
But it didn't quite come down to the final minute. Smith and Booth made sure of that. With the game tied for the eighth time at 53 on a drive by Virginia forward Junior Burrough (season-high 25 points, nine rebounds) with 7:38 to go, the two sophomores combined for eight of Maryland's next 10 points to give the Terps a 63-55 lead with 2:18 left.
Though the Cavaliers got to within three, 65-62, with 39.8 seconds to play, they would get no closer. Simpkins hit a pair and Smith closed it out by rebounding Virginia's last three shots, getting fouled twice and hitting four straight free throws.
"Every once in a while he gets in a zone where he gets it in his mind that he's going to get the rebound, and you can't do anything to stop him," said Williams. "You can't do it every time, but . . . "
It only seemed that way last night. Perhaps the best night so far in what will be called The Joe Smith Era.
NOTES: Playing his first game in the area since leaving Dunbar, Virginia freshman forward Norman Nolan scored six points on three-of-three shooting in 11 minutes. . . . Maryland plays Saturday at Georgia Tech before hosting the Tar Heels next Tuesday. . . . The Terps blocked a season-high 13 shots, the most since 1988-89.
Team .. .. .. .. .. ACC .. Overall
Maryland . .. .. .. 7-1 .. .. 17-3
North Carolina . .. 6-1 .. .. 16-1
Wake Forest . .. .. 5-3 .. .. 13-4
Georgia Tech ... .. 5-3 .. .. 14-6
Virginia . .. .. .. 5-3 .. .. 12-6
Florida State .. .. 3-5 .. .. 10-7
Clemson .. .. .. .. 2-6 .. .. 11-6
N.C. State .. .. .. 2-6 .. .. 10-8
Duke .. .. .. .. .. 0-7 .. .. 10-9
Maryland 71, Virginia 62
Fla. St. 75, NC-Greensboro 65
Ga. Tech 80, Clemson 50
W. Forest 69, N.C. State 61
N. Carolina at Duke, 9 p.m.
Maryland at Ga. Tech, 1:30 p.m.
Duke at Clemson, 4 p.m.
Florida St. at Virginia, 4 p.m.
Wake Forest at Winthrop, 7 p.m.
N.C. State at N. Carolina, 8 p.m.