COLLEGE PARK -It turned out to be the wrong day for Virginia Tech to be playing Maryland, whose fans showed up frantic not only to support their often-undermanned team but also to embrace Gary Williams, its beleaguered coach.
From the moment Williams strode onto the court yesterday and pumped his fist at the crowd, Comcast Center was infused with energy.
The crowd - including Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who donned a pro-Williams T-shirt - helped pump up the Terps, who responded with an 83-73 victory to square their Atlantic Coast Conference record at 5-5.
"They had a greater sense of urgency," Hokies coach Seth Greenberg said of the Terps (16-8), who still cling to hopes of making the NCAA tournament but face potent Clemson, North Carolina and Duke in their next three games.
Maryland won because forward Landon Milbourne scored 23 points, punctuating his performance with a monstrous dunk on a break that extended Maryland's lead to 64-54 with 5:19 remaining.
The Terps won by holding Malcolm Delaney (Towson Catholic), the Hokies' leading scorer, to 6-for-15 shooting and by converting 22 of 23 free-throw tries in the second half.
Maryland is 16-1 when it makes more free throws than its opponent. The Terps made 24 to the Hokies' 13.
The excellent free-throw shooting - Maryland entered the game ranked seventh in the nation from the line - helped the Terps hold off the Hokies (16-8, 6-4), who trailed throughout the game but cut the margin to 48-45 with about 12 minutes remaining.
Maryland handled Virginia Tech's press at the end and made every second-half free throw until Dave Neal missed with less than a minute remaining.
The game's tone was set even before it started.
The applause for Williams began building earlier than usual and continued as he walked onto the court.
Some courtside fans wore supportive "This is Garyland" red T-shirts.
Harbaugh, sitting next to Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, pulled on one of the shirts during a timeout with 11:18 left in the first half. The student section cheered, and the coach pumped his fist.
Williams' supporters have been particularly vocal since the coach and the athletic department engaged in infighting last month over two former recruits. His critics and the media have questioned Williams' recruiting in light of Maryland's missing the NCAA tournament three of the past four seasons.
Asked whether the atmosphere in the building seemed different yesterday, Williams said only, "I really like the team, and I really like coaching these guys."
But players said they noticed the enthusiasm, which included chants of "Gary, Gary, Gary."
"Definitely, because [the fans] know where our standings are, and they follow us," said Milbourne, who added that "the crowd really got into it" after his dunk.
Adrian Bowie smiled when asked about the fans. "They didn't boo us this time," he said. "Having that energy really helped us out."
Bowie, who scored eight points, regained the starting job he lost the previous game because of the flu. He and Milbourne were sporting new mohawk haircuts that Bowie said he hopes other team members will adopt in a show of unity.
Greivis Vasquez, who scored 17 points, said he was delighted that the fans were so into it.
The animated Vasquez, who made four of his first six shots, fouled out with 2:32 and had to watch the finish. "It was killing me," he said with a smile.
Vasquez said all the attention paid to Williams was merely a sidelight to the game. But the junior couldn't resist endorsing his coach.
"The man is a winner. He's a champion," Vasquez said.
play it again
Keys to the game
Maryland, which has been prone to second-half defensive troubles, had no such problems yesterday. "That's probably the best we've played in the second half defensively," coach Gary Williams said.
Did you notice ...
* Maryland didn't let down when Greivis Vasquez, who played well, fouled out with 2:32 left.
* Landon Milbourne got the crowd going not only with a second-half breakaway dunk, but also with a big offensive rebound a few moments later that led to two foul shots.
* Maryland wore its gold uniforms for the second time this season - both wins.
Left to ponder
Is all the attention paid to Williams a
distraction for the Terps or an inspiration?
MARYLAND (16-8, 5-5) @NO. 12 CLEMSON (20-3, 6-3)
Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.
Radio: 1300 AM, 105.7 FM