COLLEGE PARK - Maryland Terrapins coach Gary Williams sounded tortured and relieved, after watching his team struggle on offense for yet another night, after watching the Terps nearly blow another second-half lead, after watching senior point guard Steve Blake save the day once again.
"I was coaching my [butt] off. I was trying everything. I was begging," Williams said, reflecting on Maryland's brush with an upset on Wednesday at Florida State, where the No. 16 Terps barely stopped a two-game losing streak with a 74-72 victory.
By winning its third Atlantic Coast Conference road game - the only team in the league to do so - Maryland (15-6, 7-3) positioned itself nicely for a scramble for first place in Sunday night's rematch with visiting Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons beat Maryland a month ago in Winston-Salem.
What a hard-fought victory it was Wednesday for the Terps, who continued to stumble on offense with missed shots and turnovers, blew a 10-point lead in the first half and a nine-point lead in the second half, before putting away the Seminoles with a 9-2 run in the final three minutes.
Fortunately, Maryland overcame its 38.3 percent shooting, which followed its 42.2 percent shooting in Sunday's loss at Georgia Tech, which preceded its offensive meltdown in the final nine minutes of a home loss to Virginia. Fortunately, the Terps had Blake on hand to score the team's final seven points, including four free throws in the final 17.5 seconds, to erase Florida State's 67-65 lead.
"I thought we were going to pull away by about 10. We were fine until we got the technical," said Williams, recalling Maryland's 63-56 lead with six minutes to go. Then, senior forward Tahj Holden drew a technical foul after trying to call an official's attention to a perceived foul on him. That triggered a 7-0 game-tying spurt by the Seminoles.
"We got into a lull about 10 days ago, where we knew what we had to do but we couldn't get the fire going," Williams added. "Then we came out pretty good [with a 14-4 lead over Florida State], and we fell back into it. In the second half, we gradually started to suck it up. Then Steve hit big shots to win the game, like he's done for four years here."
Blake, who missed six of nine shots, was ice in the clutch. After calmly swishing a three-pointer from deep in the right corner off a nice penetration and feed by Drew Nicholas, and after watching Nicholas miss the front end of a one-and-one with 26 seconds to go and the Terps clinging to a 70-67 lead, Blake nailed down the win, finishing with 15 points.
"We've been struggling on offense. It's been painful," Blake said. "If we just keep our defense up, we'll be all right. No matter how you get a win, it feels good. Now we've got to keep this confidence going."
The Terps, who battled gamely on the boards in the second half and committed just three second-half turnovers in Tallahassee, overcame career-high nights from Florida State center Trevor Harvey (19 points, 10 rebounds) and point guard Nate Johnson (14 points).
Maryland also prevailed as it continued to lack flow in its offense, particularly down low, where reserves Jamar Smith and Travis Garrison have struggled and senior center Ryan Randle has shot poorly of late. In his past six games, Randle has averaged 11.2 points and 5.2 rebounds. In other words, Maryland is not wearing out opponents in the post the way the Terps have done in recent years.
"We could do that last year, but we haven't been able to do that this year," Williams said. "We have to keep grinding and digging down."
Next for Terps
Matchup: No. 16 Maryland (15-6) vs. No. 15 Wake Forest (17-3)
Site: Comcast Center, College Park
When: Sunday, 8 p.m.
TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)