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College basketball

Gators end streak for Terps

UF 69, MARYLAND 64: Walsh FTs help halt a 13-year, 87-game nonconference home victory string.

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 15, 2002

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Matt Walsh's right foot was screaming, and he could barely walk.

But Walsh felt good enough to tell Florida coach Billy Donovan he could make the starting lineup.

"It was 15 minutes before the game and he was in so much pain," Donovan said. "He told me he would play on a stump if he had to."

Sure enough, it was the freshman who had flirted with Maryland a year ago before deciding to go to Florida who was there at the end Saturday to step on Maryland's coveted 13-year, 87-game non-conference victory streak at home.

Walsh, who took a cortisone shot for pain before the game, hit five of six his free throws in the final 23 seconds to give Florida a 69-64 win over Maryland.

The No. 14 Gators became the first nonconference team to win at College Park since Dec. 12, 1989, when Coppin State beat the Terps in the old Cole Field House, 10 days after Walsh celebrated his seventh birthday.

Also ending for the No. 18 Terps was a 21-game home streak dating to Feb. 14, 2001, when they lost to Florida State 74-71.

Walsh hit the crucial free throws in the face of a raucous sea of sellout crowd of 17,950 at the Comcast Center, a national TV audience and his family and friends who had made the three-hour drive from Holland, Pa.

"There's no difference in that situation," Walsh said of the pressure. "I just went up there and did what I did. All my shots felt good. I just kept shooting."

Donovan said Walsh won't miss any practice with his foot injury, a bone bruise, and doctors will attend to it Monday in Gainesville.

Walsh scored more from the free-throw line in the final seconds than Maryland, which went 4-for-11, scored the entire game from the line.

Ryan Randle had 18 points and 10 rebounds to lead Maryland. The defending national champion Terps have lost three of their past four, all against teams now ranked in the Top 15.

"It hurts," Maryland guard Steve Blake said. "It's very disappointing to be part of what stopped the streak."

Blake, who had averaged 21 points over his past three games, was shut down by Justin Hamilton, who held him to five points and six assists. Blake didn't score until he hit a drive at the halftime buzzer.

Blake, a four-year starter from Miami Lakes who is regarded as the most experienced guard in the nation, said a lot more was at stake for the defending national champs than the home streak.

"We don't have that confidence we need to know we are going to win the game no matter what," Blake said. "We had it last year, but we don't have it now. Hopefully we can get it back."

It was a big day for Florida's freshmen. Anthony Roberson came off the bench to score 20, including four 3-pointers. He hit what he called "the biggest shot of my career" with about 2:58 left when his 3-pointer from the corner gave Florida a 64-59 lead. Roberson and Walsh combined to score Florida's final eight, and they looked poised and polished doing it.

"They have unbelievable character and confidence coming down the stretch," said Florida senior Matt Bonner, who scored 16 and had 12 rebounds. "I think that was the missing ingredient last year."

Neither team got into much of a flow in the first half.

The Terrapins went 15 minutes without a basket from outside the paint, partly because Drew Nicholas missed seven straight shots and partly because of several inside feeds to Tahj Holden and Randle.

The Gators, down 10-3 early, responded with a 14-4 run spurred by Roberson, who led both teams with 12 first-half points. Maryland led 34-33 at halftime.

As for the streak, Donovan didn't crow about ending it. He was more excited about beating the reigning NCAA champion.

"Usually, nonconference games are against lesser opponents," Donovan said. "A lot of the big ones are played on neutral courts. It was great to come in here and beat a team that has won a national championship in a hostile environment."

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