WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) — Like any Maryland player, Cliff Tucker wants to be a starter.
He sure can’t argue with the numbers.
Tucker came off the bench and scored a season-high 21 points to lead the Terrapins past Wake Forest 74-55 on Wednesday night.
“Of course, I want to start — Coach (Gary) Williams knows I want to start,” Tucker said. “I’m not going to pout about it. Whenever I’m in the game, I’m going to do whatever it takes to help this team win. These last games, I’ve been coming off the bench and doing a good job. Maybe it is working. I’m just going to continueto play hard.”
Jordan Williams added 13 points and matched a season high with 15 rebounds for his 10th consecutive double-double, and Adrian Bowie scored 12 points.
Maryland (11-5, 1-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) shot 38 percent, hitting 26 of 68 attempts, outrebounded Wake Forest 52-42 and used a 15-0 spurt midway through the second half to take command and avoid an 0-3 start to league play.
Freshman Travis McKie had 13 points and 10 rebounds, and C.J. Harris added 10 points for the Demon Deacons (7-10, 0-2). The only ACC team with double-digit losses, Wake Forest had 18 turnovers and two field-goal droughts of at least 51/2 minutes.
And while the Demon Deacons have lost two straight and seven of nine, and dropped their first two league games for the first time since 2005-06, there’s no question they’re playing better basketball than they did during a befuddling series of early-season losses to mid-majors.
“There’s positive growth — not as much or as quick as we would like, but we’re slowly getting there,” first-year coach Jeff Bzdelik said. “At this level, if you have just a few minutes of bad basketball, it’s going to cost you. That’s where we are right now.”
Tucker has reached double figures in all five games since he shifted out of the starting lineup, and the numbers indicate this one was one of his best. He topped the 17 points he scored against Pitt on Nov. 18 and finished one point shy of the career best he set against North Carolina in 2009.
“Players look at who starts, parents of players look at who starts, but basketball people look at who plays well,” the Maryland coach said. “And Cliff is really playing well. … He’s not starting the game, but in my mind, he’s a starter. And don’t be surprised if he does start somewhere along the way.”
Jordan Williams was 2-for-13 from the field against repeated Wake Forest double teams but hit 9 of 14 free throws for the Terps, who led for all of about 3 minutes and bounced back from a 71-64 loss at No. 1 Duke three nights earlier. Their rough road swing continues Saturday when they visit No. 7 Villanova.
“We knew after that (Duke) game, we played really well,” Jordan Williams said. “Now we can get our momentum going. … After the game, everyone was cheering and I said, ‘This is just the beginning.’ We’ve got to keep it moving and keep it going. We’ve got a lot more to do.”
Dino Gregory started the decisive run with a stickback with 111/2 minutes left to make it 48-40, and Tucker pushed the lead into double figures to stay with a free throw with 11:21 left. Jordan Williams made it a 20-point game with a free throw with 9:34 left and Tucker capped the burst with another free throw to stretch the lead to 61-40 with 8:42 remaining.
“(Just) like that, they were up by 20, in a matter of a couple minutes,” Harris said.
That came after Nikita Mescheriakov hit a free throw to close to 46-40 with 12:03 to play. Wake Forest didn’t score again until Ari Stewart’s layup made it 61-42 with 7:17 remaining, and didn’t get closer than 18 after that.
For the Demon Deacons, that was their second lengthy drought of the night. They went roughly 61/2 minutes between field goals and missed nine consecutive shots during one rough stretch that bridged the halves. Still, they clawed back in the game by outscoring Maryland 14-6 early in the second half, pulling to 42-36 on Mescheriakov’s layup off an inbounds pass with 141/2 minutes left.
“I thought we could have beat that team,” Harris said. “We played well through stretches. Just that little stretch after we (cut) it to six, is really what lost the game.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)