COLLEGE PARK -- The University of Maryland basketball team showed last season that it could win without star guard Walt Williams. The Terrapins showed that again last night in their 1991-92 season opener.
Though the 6-foot-8 senior was at Cole Field House in body and spirit, he wasn't there in jump shot. It didn't matter, because Mount St. Mary's had more trouble completing its passes than the Maryland football team.
Despite a tentative start by the Terps and a four-of-16 shooting performance by Williams, Maryland wound up winning easily, 83-53, before an enthusiastic crowd of 9,850.
"It wasn't an off-night; it was a horrendous night," said Williams, who compensated for his poor shooting (two of 11 on three-pointers) with 10 assists and seven steals. "But some of the other guys stepped up."
Namely, it was senior forward Garfield Smith and junior center Evers Burns who lifted Maryland from the morass of a first half. Smith led the Terps with 18 points, and Burns added 16 points and nine rebounds.
Mostly, though, it was Maryland's defense that made a difference. After hitting only 14 of 35 first-half shots and leading, 34-24, the Terps barely allowed the Mountaineers to get into their offense.
"I don't think our offense was very good in the first half, but our defense was consistent," said Maryland coach Gary Williams. "We were nervous. Every other team in America has played an exhibition except us, and it showed in the first half."
All Mount St. Mary's showed was that Maryland plays better defense than the Burundi National Team. The Mountaineers committed 41 turnovers, including nine straight in a second-half stretch when Maryland built its lead to 33.
Things weren't going well before junior guard Kevin Booth fouled out with a little more than 10 minutes left and completely fell apart after he left. Booth, the team's best player two years ago before missing all but one game of last season with a knee injury, committed seven turnovers and had a quiet seven points. Dave Kapaona led the Mountaineers with 14 points.
"I expected them to come at us full bore, and they did what we expected," said Mount St. Mary's coach Jim Phelan, who, in 38 previous seasons, never had a team commit as many turnovers in a single game. "We made a lot of poor decisions by people we didn't expect them from."
The Terps showed that last season's experience of playing without Walt Williams gave others confidence. Maryland was 6-5 during a six-week stretch when Williams was sidelined with a broken leg.
As often was the case last season, it was Smith who picked up Maryland offensively. The 6-6 senior has added some muscle to his body and some range to his jumper, and it showed last night.
Smith was often in the middle of things against the Mountaineers. Aside from his points, he also picked up four steals and, after a one-of-seven first half shooting, made six of eight in the second half.
"Garfield's an excitable player, and that's what makes him good," said Gary Williams. "He gets a little hyper -- he doesn't get that from me -- but once he settles down, he's OK. Garfield's worked hard this year. He's come a long way from high school."
So has Burns. Originally a tight end in football who attracted more interest for his blocking than his blocks, Burns has matured on the court in his first two seasons as a reserve. Now entrenched as the team's starting center, Burns is coming off a good preseason.
The first five minutes last night were no indication of Burns' improvement. But after a missed 17-footer got him a seat on the bench, Burns was back in the game shortly thereafter, not only physically, but also mentally.
"That showed me he [Gary Williams] had a lot of confidence in me," said Burns, who got help from back
center Chris Kerwin (seven points). "That made me feel good. That helped me pick it up when I came in."
Nothing helped Walt Williams last night, at least not offensively. Not only did he miss from long range, not only did he get a technical foul in the second half, but he also mistimed his jump on a breakaway, reverse jam. The ball somehow went in anyway.
"Walt's jumper was on vacation, no doubt about it," said Gary Williams.
But Maryland's defense was not. And for openers, it was that which mattered.
NOTES: Maryland is host to Maryland-Eastern Shore Tuesday night, and the Mount plays at Delaware State tomorrow night.