DURHAM, N.C. -- The Maryland Terrapins had much to overcome last night. The idea of playing without ailing coach Gary Williams. The prospect of clinching a share of their first regular-season title in more than a decade. The notion of beating Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
The sixth-ranked Terps, though, had a not-so-secret weapon to counter those potential problems: All-American Joe Smith. In one of the most memorable performances by a Maryland player in the ACC, the 6-foot-10 sophomore scored a career-high 40 points and tipped in the game-winning shot at the buzzer to lead Maryland to a 94-92 victory.
The victory, played with Williams in a Maryland hospital with pneumonia and assistant coach Billy Hahn on the bench, gave Maryland (23-5, 12-3) a share of its first ACC regular-season title since 1979-80. The Terps can clinch the championship outright -- and the No. 1 seed in this year's ACC tournament -- by beating Virginia in Charlottesville on Sunday.
Smith finished the game by tipping in a missed shot in the lane by Maryland guard Duane Simpkins. When the ball went in and the buzzer sounded, the Terps rushed onto the court and swarmed Smith. The victory gave Maryland its first win here since the 1987-88 season and Hahn his first win since his head coaching days at Ohio University six years ago.
"It was a great basketball game," Hahn said as he stood, shaking and sweating, during a post-game radio interview. "Both teams played hard. Both teams went to war."
But Maryland had Smith. With a dazzling array of dunks, jump shots, drives and tip-ins, Smith made 15 of 25 field goals and 10 of 11 foul shots. He also finished with 18 rebounds, 10 offensive.
It was the most points scored by a Maryland player since Len Bias scored 41 in a loss here during the 1985-86 season and tied for the fifth most in school history. Smith scored 13 of the last 16 points for the Terps, who after leading 89-84 with 2:05 to play fell behind on consecutive back-to-back threes by Duke guards Trajan Langdon and Jeff Capel.
"I just felt it was my night," said Smith, who may have locked up ACC Player of the Year. "I could see that their big guys were getting a little tired, so I told the fellas to get me the ball. We knew we had to keep our focus without Coach Williams here, but Coach Hahn and the other assistants did a great job."
Said Cherokee Parks, who led the Blue Devils with 20 points, eight rebounds and seven blocks: "They did a great job of crashing the boards [Maryland led 42-27] and it was hard keeping anyone on Joe. He seemed to be in too many places at the same time."
Smith had 17 points at halftime against a team that had limited him to 33 in his first three games, including a career-low six in last month's 74-72 win at College Park.
This time, after turning a 43-41 halftime deficit into a 50-45 lead, Maryland watched as Duke (12-16, 2-13) pulled ahead, 52-50 with 15:20 remaining. The rest of the game, the teams swapped leads 11 times with nine ties, the last when Parks made two free throws with 29 seconds left.
"We didn't want to call timeout, we just wanted to get the ball to Joe," said Simpkins. "It seemed like the whole team was guarding him. We had to make something happen."
So Simpkins drove the right baseline and had the ball knocked away. It bounced off Duke center Greg Newton's chest, but Simpkins regained control and tried to put in a shot in the lane. The ball hit the back of the rim, but Smith was there to tap it in.
It was the first time Maryland had won at the buzzer since Walt Williams made a tip-in to beat North Carolina in 1991-92. It was the fourth time this season that the beleaguered Blue Devils lost an ACC home game at the last second.
Even Smith's teammates, who are so used to his heroics, were impressed -- they serenaded him with an "I want to be like Joe" chant.
Junior forward Exree Hipp recalled looking up at the scoreboard twice, once in the first half when Smith had 17 and in the second half when the total had run to 36.
"I said, 'He's scoring all our points,' " said Hipp. "Superman was in the building tonight. What a better way to end the game but on a Joe Smith basket at the buzzer."
Team ........... ACC .. Overall
Maryland ....... 12-3 .... 23-5
N. Carolina .... 11-4 .... 21-4
Wake Forest .... 11-4 .... 20-5
Virginia ....... 11-4 .... 20-7
Georgia Tech .... 7-7 .... 17-10
Florida State ... 5-10 ... 12-13
Clemson ......... 4-11 ... 14-11
N.C. State ...... 4-11 ... 12-13
Duke ............ 2-13 ... 12-16
Maryland 94, Duke 92
Clemson 62, N.C. State 45
W. Forest 79, N. Carolina 70
Virginia 63, Virginia Tech 62
Fla. St. at Ga. Tech, 7:30 p.m.
N.C. St. at W. Forest, 1:30 p.m.
Ga. Tech at Clemson, 4 p.m.
Duke at N. Carolina, 7:30 p.m.
Maryland at Virginia, 3:45 p.m.
End of regular season
If Maryland beats Virginia on Sunday, it wins the Atlantic Coast Conference title outright.
If Maryland loses at Virginia, while both North Carolina and Wake Forest win their respective regular-season finales, there is a four-way tie for first. The Demon Deacons would get the No. 1 seed based on a 4-2 record vs. the other three teams. The Terps and Tar Heels would flip for the No. 2 seed and the Cavaliers would be seeded No. 4.