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Updated: Thursday, March 18, 2004 5:57 PM EST
NCAA BASKETBALL RECAP
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(4) Maryland 86, (13) Texas El Paso 83

DENVER (Ticker) -- Chris McCray and Maryland survived a quick turnaround and a tight finish.

McCray scored 19 points as the fourth-seeded Terrapins escaped with their sixth straight victory, 86-83 over No. 13 Texas-El Paso in the first round of the Phoenix Region.

Maryland (20-11) entered off its first Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championship in 20 years, including a rousing overtime victory over Duke in Sunday's title game. The youthful Terrapins had to travel West for the 10:40 a.m. local start just four days later to face a hungry Miners squad.

"We are not a veteran savvy team like we have been the past three years, but we are learning with experience," Maryland coach Gary Williams said.

Texas-El Paso (24-8) trailed by as many as 11 points, but took its only lead of the second half on Omar Thomas' two foul shots for a 76-75 edge with 2:54 to go. The Miners' Chris Craig forged the game's final tie with a 3-pointer with 1:47 left.

Jamar Smith split a pair at the line to give Maryland the lead for good and Thomas committed a turnover. Thomas was whistled for a questionable blocking foul that led to freshman D.J. Strawberry's two foul shots with 46 seconds to go.

The teams exchanged a pair of free throws, giving Texas-El Paso one final chance. Craig airballed a contested 3-pointer with four seconds left and the Miners grabbed the offensive rebound, but failed to get another shot off as time expired.

"We wanted Chris to have the ball in his hands," Miners coach Billy Gillespie said. "He's a great shooter. We could have had a better look, but there is nobody I would rather have shooting to win or tie a game than Chris."

The Terrapins, who have not lost a first-round game since 1997, advanced to meet defending national champion Syracuse in the second round.

"This is pretty typical of the way we play," Williams said. "We haven't been able to put teams away this year. I can't remember another team that has been in more pressure situations down the stretch than these players because of that."

John Gilchrist, the ACC tournament MVP, netted 18 points for Maryland. Gilchrist scored six points in a 31-second span in the final 2:36.

Maryland also dominated inside with Smith making his first five shots and finishing with 14 points. When Smith was double-teamed, Nik Caner-Medley was able to step up on the perimeter for 12 points.

"You have to be able to step up and make open shots," Caner-Medley said. "They left me wide open and they were double-teaming on the post and I felt like it was the best thing to do for the team."

John Tofi led UTEP with 16 points and 10 rebounds and Thomas added 15 points. The smaller Miners got into early foul trouble and athletic forward Roy Smallwood lasted only 18 minutes before he fouled out with eight points.

McCray's layup opened up a 70-59 lead with just over 10 minutes left, but that was Maryland's last basket for more than six minutes. Reserve Giovanni St. Amant, who scored eight points, sparked a second-half run that got the Miners back in the contest.


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