Terps try to take breakthrough win in stride Williams joyful, but urges caution

December 30, 1992|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Staff Writer

COLLEGE PARK -- Shortly after the din of Cole Field House quieted Monday night, long after his team had left the court to savor its 72-67 victory over Louisville, Maryland coach Gary Williams did his best to downplay the significance of the moment.

"It's only December, so we can't get too carried away," said Williams.

But let's put this win in its proper perspective: it's the most important victory for Maryland since the Terrapins swept the season series in 1989-90 from North Carolina. That was Williams' first year back at his alma mater.

It was the sixth straight victory this season for Maryland (7-1), the longest winning streak since the Terps won 10 straight in 1984-85. And most importantly, it came with senior point guard Kevin McLinton spending much of the second half on the bench in foul trouble.

"With the freshmen, you need to show them that what we're working hard for can happen," Williams said yesterday after viewing a tape of the game with his players. "But you have to temper it by saying that 'if you think you've arrived, you haven't.' After the Howard game [Saturday], it's going to be like this every night."

After losing McLinton to fouls with 3:25 remaining, after losing all but five points of what had been a 14-point second-half lead, Maryland hung on because it held together. Though the freshmen showed their nerves -- Johnny Rhodes missed two straight one-and-ones in the final 42.7 seconds -- they also showed their nerve.

Rhodes and freshman forward Exree Hipp carried Maryland offensively most of the night, each finishing with 15 points. Both were undaunted during a 22-10 run that brought the Terps back from a seven-point deficit early in the second half. One dunk by Hipp, a monster two-hand baseline jam over two players, energized the sellout crowd.

"It really got loud after that dunk," Williams said.

While Hipp and Rhodes had played as well against lesser competition this season, Duane Simpkins had not. The freshman guard, coming off the bench for the first time in his career, had struggled mightily and was starting to lose confidence as well as playing time.

It didn't help when Simpkins threw away a pass shortly after coming in for McLinton earlier in the second half. But after hitting a three-point shot during a later 14-2 run that stretched Maryland's lead out to 14, 70-56, Simpkins suddenly looked as comfortable as either Rhodes or Hipp.

"It took something like a big shot or a big assist to get me going," said Simpkins. "I haven't played too well, and I was starting to press a little."

Said Williams, "You're not good if you only have one point guard. I think it showed if Kevin gets into foul trouble or twists an ankle or something, Duane can come in and do the job. It's not as easy to say you can put Johnny at point. I think what Duane did was really big."

While the freshmen stole the spotlight, the seniors did much of the dirty work. After a lackluster first half, forward Evers Burns took over the boards in the second half, finishing with 14 points and a career-high 13 rebounds. Center Chris Kerwin had 10 points, four rebounds and two blocked shots.

Despite Louisville's slow start -- the Cardinals are now 2-4 after playing four of their first six games on the road -- the victory came against a team that was ranked No. 13 in the preseason and got more than a few Top 25 votes last week. It showed that Maryland, despite a rotation laden with freshmen, is ready to be a factor in the ACC.

Especially at home.

"I think it showed that if you come into our house, you'd better be ready for a fight," said Burns. "Like a lot of people, I was curious as to how the freshmen were going to react. But they're not freshmen any more."

Williams, though, is cautious. He doesn't want anyone, especially his young players, to place too much importance on this coming-of-age victory. Not when the Terps open up their conference schedule with three straight nationally-ranked teams -- Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Florida State.

"We can play better," he said. "But the timing of this was good."

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