COLLEGE PARK - James Gist has been turning heads since joining the University of Maryland basketball team, and after his formal introduction to the Atlantic Coast Conference last night, the 6-foot-8 freshman reserve forward from Silver Spring has passed another test.
Gist did not expect to play a career-high 31 minutes, nor did he figure to play long enough to get roughed up twice and still finish the game on the floor. But as the Terrapins' entire front line was collapsing in the face of foul trouble, Gist's role kept growing.
In the wake of Maryland's 90-88 overtime victory over Florida State at sold-out Comcast Center, Gist was not the only hero to emerge from the Terps' bench.
There was sophomore guard D.J. Strawberry, who scored five of his 11 points in overtime. And sophomore guard Mike Jones, who made a huge three-pointer to give Maryland an 88-86 lead with 46 seconds left in the extra period. And sophomore center Will Bowers, who grabbed five rebounds and blocked two shots in 14 minutes, a career-high in conference play.
Gist was the steadiest of all of the backups. Playing both power forward and center, he scored 11 points, had seven rebounds and blocked four shots - both career highs - and added an assist and two steals, while committing just one of Maryland's 15 turnovers.
"It was fun. I wasn't really thinking about the minutes. I was just trying to do whatever I had to do to keep my team moving along," said Gist, who had an ice pack on his right elbow, which he jammed not long after getting the wind knocked out of him and lying on the court for a minute.
"Coming off the bench, you've got to come in and get in the flow of the game, or you're not [going to be] in the game. I'm catching on real quick."
With junior forward Travis Garrison and sophomore center Ekene Ibekwe in constant foul trouble - both fouled out - and junior Nik Caner-Medley being forced to play out of position at power forward, Gist had to catch on in a hurry.
During his first two minutes of action, the Good Counsel alumnus made a free throw, stole a pass that led to a three-pointer by Chris McCray, blocked a shot by forward Al Thornton, then made a 12-foot fadeaway jumper that gave Maryland a 13-6 lead.
Gist, who had his hands full guarding Thornton in the second half, nearly pushed the Terps over the top in regulation. His follow-up slam gave Maryland a 77-72 lead with 3:25 left. His free throw made it 78-77 with 1:55 to go. He found McCray open from 15 feet out with nine seconds to go, although McCray dished off to Caner-Medley, who tossed up an air ball from the corner as time expired.
Maryland coach Gary Williams smiled at the thought of what Gist could become in College Park.
"[Gist] kept us in there early. When Travis got his second [foul], we were still able to play pretty well, because of what [Gist] was doing. He is young, but he keeps on playing. When he dunks the ball, by the time he gets back across half court, you can't tell whether he's missed a shot or made a dunk," Williams said.
"[Gist] came in with a good academic background, and he's intent on learning. He understands he's got to learn. Just because he's playing doesn't mean he's arrived, and he understands that."