GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — Maryland ended its late-season slide to stay unbeaten against Sidney Lowe at North Carolina State. The question now is whether Lowe will get another shot at the Terrapins next year.
Jordan Williams had 16 points and 13 rebounds to help Maryland beat N.C. State 75-67 on Thursday night in the first round of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.
The seventh-seeded Terrapins (19-13) led by 17 points in the first half and never let the 10th-seeded Wolfpack (15-16) get closer than six after halftime. They needed this win considering how they possibly fumbled away their NCAA tournament at-large chances by closing the regular season with three straight losses, two coming to lower-seeded Miami and Virginia.
Maryland next faces fifth-ranked Duke, the tournament’s No. 2 seed, in Friday’s quarterfinals.
“I thought we learned we could win,” coach Gary Williams said. “Winning is a fragile thing. You lose a couple of games, and doubt starts to seep in. You have to have tough people like who are sitting beside me here to prevent that from happening.”
The Terrapins led the entire way in what could be the final game for Lowe, the fifth-year coach who was the starting point guard on N.C. State’s “Cardiac Pack” team that won an improbable NCAA championship in 1983. The Wolfpack just couldn’t pull off the same kind of magic it had in a pair of deep ACC tournament runs while Lowe roamed the sideline in his striking red blazer.
The Wolfpack shot just 34 percent, including 2-for-17 from 3-point range, and fell to 0-9 against Williams’ Terps under Lowe.
Lowe said he planned to talk with athletics director Debbie Yow and “see where it goes from there.”
“I love this school,” Lowe said. “I poured my sweat here for four years to give it my best, and it was my hope and dream to come back here and do something special again. So, yeah, it means a lot more to me than it might mean to another coach or something.
“It hurts me because I know what it’s about down here. I know what it’s like, and I know what it’s like to win here. I know how the people will get behind you and the true fans will stick with you and enjoy that thing some. Yeah, it means a lot more to me.”
Maryland didn’t face much drama in this one, taking a 31-14 lead on James Padgett’s tip-in of his own missed shot with 8:51 left in the first half. That prompted a timeout call from a visibly angry Lowe, who chastised his team after watching the ball just fall right to Padgett instead of going up and snatching the rebound.
The Wolfpack responded from an effort standpoint, closing the gap to six points late in the half and trailing 42-33 at the break. But N.C. State never overcame that bad start, leaving Lowe looking for answers the rest of the night.
Now he’ll have to wait for the answer on his future.
Lowe entered with an 86-77 overall record while going just 25-55 in ACC play. He also hasn’t made the NCAA tournament after inheriting a program coming off five straight NCAA trips. There have been a handful of exciting moments, including a surprise run to the ACC tournament final in his first season and a trip to the ACC semifinals last year.
Yet those moments proved fleeting, with the Wolfpack failing to finish higher than ninth in the ACC under Lowe while struggling to sustain any momentum from big wins.
Yow has said there would be no decisions on Lowe’s future until after the season is complete. Now, barring an unexpected invitation to the NIT on Sunday night, that’s exactly where things stand.
“I really didn’t think about that,” senior Tracy Smith said. “I was just thinking about winning this game and not wanting this to be my last game. Coach is a basketball coach. That’s his situation. I hope for the best and everything. Hopefully he will come back.”
Smith scored 14 points despite not starting as punishment for an unspecified violation. When he entered the game at 16:52 of the first half, N.C. State trailed 13-5 — the same margin as the final score.
Maryland pushed its lead to 16 with about 6 minutes left before N.C. State made its final push, twice getting as close as six points in the final minute. But Maryland hit four straight free throws to seal it.
“Coming off the three losses, it was definitely a good time for us to come out and get a win tonight,” Jordan Williams said. “At this point, we just take it game by game and play by play. We trust each other, and we trust the coaches, and I think we’re going to be a tough team to beat.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)