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Williams leads Terrapins through tumultuous season, into tourney

ATLANTA -- Gary Williams needs to give his team some revised T-shirts.

The Maryland coach passed out "Win Two" T-shirts to his squad prior to coming to the ACC tournament, a not-so-subtle message indicating he felt the Terps were two wins from an NCAA tournament at-large bid.

"I need 'Win Three' shirts now," Williams said after Maryland upset Wake Forest 75-64 (RECAP|BOX) to advance to the ACC semifinals. "I think I have some in my room."

In a year that saw Williams come under fire off the court, his players are carrying extra satisfaction in gettng back to the NCAA tournament for the second time in three years.

"When that stuff was going on, it was mind-boggling," says Eric Hayes. "It was crazy to even consider that he should be fired. We know what we has done for this program and our team. We stuck by him."

It is clear Williams has an affection for this group of players, and the players are quick to return the compliments. The Terps are not overloaded with McDonald's All-Americans like a few other schools in the conference, but they have apparently battled their way to the NCAA tournament with a 20-12 overall record, including these two wins in the ACC tournament.

"I enjoy coaching guys that like to practice and get better, and these guys like to get better," Williams said. "I started off as a high school J.V. coach, working with guys that just wanted to get better. That's what I do, whether it is basketball or something else after they graduate. I've never forgotten that. I've been criticized for it, but I've never forgotten it."

With Maryland leading by 13 with 35 seconds left, senior Dave Neal was waving his arms and jumping on the bench celebrating the biggest win of the season. Williams, of course, would have none of it, barking at Neal to sit down.

"That's Coach Williams," said Neal, who made a big three to stem Wake's only second-half rally. "He is intense for 40 minutes and he isn't going to crack a smile until the buzzer sounds."

Once the buzzer did sound, Maryland celebrated long and loud, and the realization that they had achieved the goal of two wins in Atlanta was clearly evident in a jubilant locker room. Neal reflected on the season Williams and the players have gone through.

"We have 100 percent faith in Coach Williams," Neal said. "We know he works extremely hard. I'm sure he didn't even sleep last night getting ready for Wake Forest. We know how bad he wants it and we're going to have his back."

Williams acknowleged it has been a trying season and praised his players' focus.

"They could have quit," Williams said. "There were some things we had to handle this season, but these guys do a great job of practicing when its time to practice. We don't worry about other things."

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