Two wins to gain serious consideration for the NCAA tournament that they have missed three of the past four seasons. Two wins to prove - again - that they could compete with the ACC elite. Maryland fans even began sporting T-shirts with "two" on them.
Last night, Maryland got the deuce it had been looking for. Against a larger, favored team in a season in which little was expected of them, the Terrapins willed their way into the tournament semifinals with a 75-64 victory over No. 8 Wake Forest.
"Pull out the 'Win three' T-shirts now," a relieved-looking Maryland coach Gary Williams joked afterward. "I've got them in my room."
With the win, Maryland advanced to the tournament semifinals for the first time since winning the tournament in 2004. The Terps will play No. 9 Duke, which beat Boston College, 66-65, last night, at 4 p.m. today.
Williams wouldn't speculate about Maryland's NCAA chances but said the Terps had built a solid case. "We had some good wins before today," he said.
The Terps needed a good run after losing their final regular-season game to unheralded Virginia.
Maryland fans chanted, "Gary, Gary," in tribute to Williams in the final moments. When the game was over, Dave Neal and Landon Milbourne chest-bumped and Greivis Vasquez, who scored a game-high 22 points, held one finger aloft to the Georgia Dome crowd.
Maryland, the tournament's seventh seed, won by converging inside and trapping on defense against Wake Forest, the second seed.
Through it all, the Terps (20-12) were playing like an excited team caught up in the moment.
"I'm having fun," Vasquez shouted toward the stands after being fouled with the Terps ahead 34-29 in the final moments of the first half. He made two free throws.
Wake Forest (24-6), by comparison, looked pressured and tight.
Jeff Teague, who entered averaging 19.4 points, shot 0-for-6 in the first half and finished with 11 points. Teague and the other Demon Deacons looked confused against Maryland's sagging defense, which seemed to dare them to shoot the three. Wake went 3-for-25 from beyond the arc.
Maryland dominated on the boards in the teams' first meeting and out-rebounded Wake 44-40 last night. Milbourne grabbed a team-high 11 rebounds.
"The way we rebounded tonight, I think we made a statement that even though we're undersized we can still play with the big boys," Neal said.
Maryland had seemed to tire in the second half of a 65-63 loss to Wake on March 3. Maryland guard Sean Mosley (St. Frances) said Williams told the team: "We played 35 minutes at Maryland. You play 40 minutes tonight, you get this win."
On offense, Maryland's game plan was to drive the ball and create fouls or kick it back out to shooters for three-pointers.
The Terps had gone to the line just twice against Wake Forest in the teams' first meeting. But last night, Maryland went to the line 16 times in the first half alone and 26 times overall.
Watching players warm up before the game, former Wake Forest coach Dave Odom said Maryland needed to hold the Demon Deacons to 75 points or fewer to have a chance. Wake (24-6) entered averaging 82 points.
Maryland won despite foul trouble. Vasquez picked up his fourth foul with just under seven minutes left. Neal was also limited, picking up his fourth with 5:02 left.
Maryland had more motivation than fans knew.
Eric Hayes wore the name on his sneakers of a family friend who died a few days ago from complications from surgery.
Vasquez wore "RIP" on his sneakers. He said he was marking the death of his aunt this past summer and of a friend who recently committed suicide.
"I know he's watching me," Vasquez said. "I said all my prayers, and I'm praying for him. I dedicated the game to my aunt and to my friend."
play it again
Keys to the game
For the second straight night, Maryland gambled by daring an opponent to shoot three-pointers - and it worked. Wake Forest shot 3-for-25 from beyond the arc. Maryland, led by Landon Milbourne, kept the Demon Deacons from dominating on the boards.
Did you notice
* Greivis Vasquez's pump fake got Wake's James Johnson to commit his third foul midway through the first half. Johnson, who scored 20 points, was able to play only 25 minutes.
* Adrian Bowie lost his shoe on the first defensive sequence. He slipped it on when Maryland got back on offense. He lost it again in the first minute of the second half.
Left to ponder
How many fans at the Georgia Dome
thought they would be seeing
Maryland still around today?
ACC SEMIFINAL MARYLAND (20-12) VS. NO. 9 DUKE (26-6) Today, 4 p.m., Atlanta
TV: Chs. 54, 20 Radio: 1300 AM, 105.7 FM