CROWD PLEASER

The Baltimore Sun

COLLEGE PARK -Two seasons ago, Maryland fans giddily stormed the court after the Terps stunned fifth-ranked North Carolina at Comcast Center.

It would be hard to overestimate how desperately the Terrapins wanted - how much they needed - another upset of that magnitude to rewrite the story of their season.

Yesterday, Maryland and its fans got the upset they so fervently sought, and it came complete with fans toppling the courtside seats, racing onto the court, and bouncing up and down.

The 88-85 overtime win over third-ranked North Carolina - which had won 10 in a row - will be added to the list of improbable wins by Gary Williams-coached teams in recent years.

The Terps, who came back from a 16-point deficit, won because Greivis Vasquez recorded the third triple double in Maryland's history with a career-high 35 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. "That has to be one of the best - maybe the best because I had a triple double," Vasquez said.

Vasquez, who scored Maryland's first 16 points, banked in a runner to tie the score at 76 with eight seconds left in regulation.

Vasquez then hit two three-pointers in overtime - each with the score tied - before nailing two foul shots to make it 88-85 with five seconds remaining.

With Maryland looking to foul to guard against a game-tying three-pointer, North Carolina guard Ty Lawson - who scored 16 of his 24 points in the second half - lost the ball on the Tar Heels' last possession.

"Sean [Mosley] tried to foul, but he actually tipped the ball right to me and that was the game," said Maryland guard Eric Hayes, who had 17 points.

Hayes tossed the ball toward the rafters in celebration - it hit the scoreboard - as the final buzzer sounded. "I was trying to throw it as high as I could," Hayes said.

Hayes, a junior, said he couldn't remember a more meaningful win. "The situation we're at right now and the team we have right now, I think this is probably one of the biggest wins we've had," he said.

Maryland (17-9, 6-6 Atlantic Coast Conference) also won because Cliff Tucker, who scored 18 points against the Tar Heels in North Carolina's victory Feb. 3, scored 19 of his 22 points in the second half.

Tucker had been relegated to the bench for a stretch last month.

He said Maryland coaches said before the game "that somebody nobody knows about would step up." Tucker figured he would be that guy.

"Cliff is really coming on," said Williams, crediting the player with "perseverance" and "willpower" for playing so well despite his frustration earlier in the season. Tucker did not play in a win over Miami on Jan. 31 and played one minute the game before. He began to turn his season around in North Carolina's 108-91 victory over the Terps in Chapel Hill on Feb. 3.

Yesterday, North Carolina led 39-30 at the half. Two free throws by Wayne Ellington extended the margin to 50-34 before the Terps came back.

Williams told his players all week that they needed to believe they could pull of a "statement" win against an ACC powerhouse, and the team certainly bought in.

"This puts us back on the map," senior forward Dave Neal said. "It proves to the country that we can play with anybody."

Williams and the players credited the fans, who, after Maryland's 5-6 start in the ACC, were as eager as the players for something - anything - to turn the season around.

"That's the way it's supposed to be at Comcast Center," Williams said. "That was a Cole Field House crowd."

It has been a trying season for the Terps, who are frantically trying to avoid missing the NCAA tournament for the fourth time in five seasons. Several players said yesterday's win puts them back in contention for a tournament bid.

Williams, in his 20th season at Maryland, has seen his recruiting questioned by fans and the media - a topic neither the coach nor the players were addressing yesterday as they reveled in the win.

Asked about this season's tribulations, Vasquez replied: "I'm here to play basketball, I'm here to be a player."

He was that yesterday.

NO. 9 DUKE (21-5, 7-4) @ MARYLAND (17-9, 6-6)

Wednesday, 9 p.m.

TV: ESPN

Radio: 1300 AM, 105.7 FM

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