There were a lot of questions for Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams and his Terrapins after the team lost back-to-back games at home last month to Ohio and American.
The only question being asked of Williams and his players this week after Saturday's momentous upset of top-ranked North Carolina in Chapel Hill is this: Can the Terps do it again in their next game, Sunday against No. 4 Duke at Comcast Center?
"We have to handle the North Carolina game just like we handled the American U. game. You have to take things in perspective and not get too high after a good win or too low after a tough loss," Williams said on the Atlantic Coast Conference coaches' teleconference yesterday. "Hopefully, we'll be a mature team this week, but we'll see what happens."
The Terps, who came in as 18 1/2 -point underdogs against North Carolina, acted as if they won a national championship rather than their second straight ACC game and sixth win in the past seven games to boost their record to 12-7 overall and 2-2 in the ACC.
Williams didn't mind seeing his players rolling around the Smith Center court in celebration after their 82-80 win over the previously unbeaten Tar Heels.
"I want them to be excited. They worked very hard to get to where we could be competitive with a team like North Carolina. We weren't that team about 3 1/2 weeks ago," Williams said.
"I wanted them to show that emotion and understand why they won the game. Hopefully, we can build on that. That's the key thing, not let that be one game this year, but maybe we continue from there and keep improving as the season goes on."
Though Williams downplayed the significance of his seventh career victory against a No. 1 team and Maryland's first road win over a top-ranked North Carolina team in 22 years, it was difficult to ignore the attention it has received.
Aside from being the biggest upset of the day and one of the biggest of the season, it was the lead story on ESPN.com the past two days and even generated an ovation from Duke fans at Cameron Indoor Stadium right before the start of the Blue Devils' game against Clemson.
"What you have to guard against is all of a sudden all these people telling the people how good they are," said Williams, whose seven victories against No. 1 teams are the most of any active Division I coach. "I told them about all the phone calls I've gotten since the Carolina game. I didn't quite get the same number of calls after the American U. game, or the calls I did get weren't the same tone."
Milbourne steps up
Overshadowed by senior forward James Gist's performance that included 22 points and 13 rebounds and senior center Bambale Osby's game-winning basket was the contribution of sophomore forward Landon Milbourne.
Milbourne set the tone for the Terps by making the team's first field goal and finished with a career-high 14 points. It was the third time in double figures in the past four games for Milbourne, whose previous high was 12 against Holy Cross on Jan. 8.
"I think the big thing for Landon is that he's gotten a chance to play," Williams said. "This is almost like his freshman year in terms of how much he played last year. He's gradually gaining confidence."
Maryland got a big boost from sophomore guard Eric Hayes, who returned after missing two weeks with a sprained left ankle to score eight points in 13 minutes off the bench. Hayes made his first shot, a three-pointer.
"You definitely feel better after you hit a shot like that right after coming into the game," said Hayes, who estimated he still was only "65 percent" healthy. "I felt like I did a pretty decent job."
Jump in the RPI
Ranked as low as the 170s a few weeks ago after starting the season 34th, the Terps have climbed to 82 in the NCAA's Rating Percentage Index. They are no longer the lowest-ranked team in the ACC, with Georgia Tech (8-9, 1-3) ranked 84th.
Gist was named the ACC's Player of the Week. For the two games last week, Gist averaged 16 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocked shots.