GREENSBORO, N.C.-- The Maryland Terrapins usually follow the lead of sophomore All-American Joe Smith, and they did again last night at the Greensboro Coliseum.
For the first 30 minutes of his team's ACC tournament quarterfinal against Florida State, Smith was uncharacteristically sluggish. But the 6-foot-10 center arose from his slumber, and so did the Terps.
Smith scored 13 of his team-high 15 points in the final 10 minutes to lead 10th-ranked Maryland to a come-from-behind 71-64 victory and the school's first trip to the tournament semifinals in six years. The third-seeded Terps will play second-seeded North Carolina today.
Playing its third straight game with assistant coach Billy Hahn subbing for the ailing Gary Williams, Maryland (24-6) got some of the balance back that it had lacked during the final week of the regular season. Johnny Rhodes and Keith Booth each added 13 and reserve Mario Lucas had 12. Bob Sura led Florida State (12-15) with 22.
"I tried to wait for the game to come to me," said Smith, who also finished with a game-high 16 rebounds before fouling out with 1:37 to play. "I started getting the ball down low and I went on a little scoring spree."
So did the Terps, who to that point looked tentative, as if they were still recovering from the 25-point defeat they suffered at Virginia in Sunday's regular-season finale.
Trailing 47-40 with a little under 11 minutes remaining, Smith led Maryland on a 21-4 run. After being held without a basket and to only two points in the first 30 minutes, Smith took over inside, fouling out two of Florida State's big men in the process.
After back-to-back baskets by Rhodes pulled Maryland within 49-48, Smith put the Terps ahead for good with a three-point shot. He then blocked Florida State's James Collins at the other end and tipped in a miss for a 53-49 lead. Another basket by Smith made it 57-51 and after two free throws by Booth, two free throws by Smith put Maryland ahead 61-51.
Asked about his first basket, which came on a steal and drive with 10:12 left in the game, Smith said: "It was very big. It picked me up and it picked the team up."
Said Booth, who came out of his recent slump with a solid 13-point, 10-rebound performance against 6-10 freshman Corey Louis: "I don't think we were waiting for Joe. We came out a little bit sluggish as a team and we picked it up in the second half."
Booth also hit nine of 10 free throws.
As Louis and Kirk Luchman got in foul trouble for Florida State, the Seminoles seemed to self-destruct. Just as they had in their two regular-season losses to the Terps, the Seminoles played even for about 30 minutes but couldn't sustain it. A lot had to do with Smith, who came in averaging 18 points and 18 rebounds against Florida State for his career.
"We couldn't put any big bodies on him, and he just took over inside," said Reid, 7 feet, who is too slow to stay with Smith.
When Smith came out after picking up his fourth personal -- he clobbered LaMarr Greer -- with 4:22 remaining, the Terps saw their 10-point lead start to shrivel. Despite missing three of four free throws in one crucial stretch, the Seminoles cut Maryland's lead in half. A free throw by Collins made it 63-58 with 2:57 to go.
Smith seemingly came to the rescue again, hitting two free throws with 2:06 left to push Maryland ahead by seven. He then got the rebound off a miss by Collins, and was fouled again. But he missed both, with 1:48 to play. He then fouled out with 1:37 left, as Louis hit one of two to make it 65-59. The Terps then hit seven of nine free throws to ice the game.
"Our first-half patience and execution, for some reason, wasn't there," said Hahn, whose team shot 10 of 26 for the first half and 21 of 54 for the game. "We did not do the things we do normally. Joe wasn't getting the ball. But I think our defensive pressure wore them down a little, and we were able to get Joe the ball."
The Terps have won two of three since Williams was hospitalized with pneumonia.
The victory gave Maryland its first ACC tournament win -- aside from two play-in game victories -- since a then-bottom-seeded JTC team upset top-seeded North Carolina State in 1989 at the Omni in Atlanta.
Now, with Williams recovering at home and hoping to be back for next week's NCAA tournament, the Terps will take on the Tar Heels. The teams split their two regular-season meetings, with Maryland upsetting then-top-ranked North Carolina in College Park last month.
"We want to show we're one of the best teams in the country," said Booth.
Last night they showed only persistence. And they showed what happens when Joe Smith takes over.
At Greensboro (N.C.) Coliseum
* Virginia 77, Georgia Tech 67
* Wake Forest 87, Duke 70
* N. Carolina 78, Clemson 62
* Maryland 71, Fla. State 64
* Virginia vs. Wake Forest,
1:30 p.m., chs. 54, 7
* North Carolina vs. Maryland
4 p.m., chs. 54, 7
$ * 3 p.m., chs. 54, 7