Shaking off an 0-3 start, the Terps climbed to 4-4 in the ACC with a masterful 88-74 victory over Georgia Tech before a Cole Field House crowd of 14,428.
The earth didn't shake in its whitened splendor, but the repercussions were clear to the Terps. If a .500 record in the ACC is the bottom line toward getting an NCAA tournament invitation, they are halfway there. At 11-7 overall, they can begin the countdown.
"If you continue those percentages through the year, that's definitely an NCAA [tournament]-caliber team," point guard Duane Simpkins said of the Terps' won-lost figures.
The Terps climbed a notch to fourth place -- past Clemson, which was routed by Duke, 83-53, yesterday. They won for the fifth time in the past six games because they played stifling defense, because Hipp emerged from his season-long slumber to score 15 points, and because their bench is a lot deeper than Georgia Tech's.
Maryland's bench brigade -- led by freshmen Terrell Stokes and Laron Profit and senior Mario Lucas -- outscored Georgia Tech's bench, 29-9. Couple that with balanced scoring from the starters, and Maryland was able to reverse a 14-point loss in Atlanta a month ago.
Keith Booth and Simpkins both matched Hipp with 15 points apiece, and Johnny Rhodes added 10.
"We had a lot of guys give a couple minutes that really helped us," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "That's the key to our team, to get enough people playing. And we have enough talent that we're pretty good when that happens."
The Terps were often at their best against the Yellow Jackets (13-10, 6-3). Hipp scored nine of the team's first 18 points to get off to an early lead. The man-to-man defense kicked in during a 51-38 second half that blew Georgia Tech out of the game.
Midway through the second half, the Jackets went 10 minutes with only one field goal -- and Maryland's lead went from eight to 14 points.
By game's end, the youthful Terps were even toying with their intense coach. Stokes, the precocious freshman guard, snapped towel at Williams' back in celebration as the final seconds ticked off the clock.
"I like playing with Gary," Stokes said. "He's a nice guy to joke with. I've got a nice relationship with him."
Stokes got 18 quality minutes against Georgia Tech's heralded freshman point guard Stephon Marbury and more than held his own, even if Marbury scored 26. Stokes scored a season-high 11 points and hit his first two three-pointers of the year -- after attempting only one previously.
"Terrell played so well today, you had to have him on the court," Williams said.
The matchup with Marbury, from New York, goes back to Stokes' roots as a Philadelphia point guard. The two played against, and with, each other growing up.
"It's a rivalry, but it's a healthy rivalry," Stokes said. "It's been pretty even. Now, every time we play Georgia Tech, it'll be Stokes against Marbury."
Symbolic of that rivalry was the sequence that closed the first half. Marbury scored in traffic with 1:07 left to give Tech a 36-35 lead.
Stokes entered with 47 seconds left. With 22 seconds left and Williams shouting from the bench for a play, Stokes dribbled at midcourt, watching the clock wind under :10. Then he drove for the basket, missed a layup, got the rebound, was fouled, and made two free throws -- giving the Terps the lead for good at 37-36.
It was a sign of things to come, too. On a team with four seniors, three freshmen are beginning to make their mark. Although Obinna Ekezie (four points, one rebound) was quiet, Profit made the most of his 18-minute stint.
Profit's line read nine points, four steals, five assists and three rebounds, a line certain to earn him more minutes down the stretch.
Afterward, Williams talked about the blend of experience and youth on the team.
"You see Laron Profit and Terrell Stokes playing very well, but believe me, both Johnny [Rhodes] and Keith [Booth] had a lot to do with that. They have given confidence to the younger players, and the more important thing, they have made them feel very welcome on the team."
If the Terps ultimately reach the NCAA tournament, those freshmen will have played a critical part in the journey.