McLinton's drive gives Terps a shot

KEN ROSENTHAL

February 14, 1993|By KEN ROSENTHAL

COLLEGE PARK -- Don't judge him by the final sequence, when he was too tired, too confused, too overwhelmed to tie the score. Kevin McLinton is the reason Maryland remains competitive in this trying season. Kevin McLinton is the reason Maryland was in the game.

All he did yesterday was score 21 of the Terps' final 27 points to rally them from a 15-point second-half deficit. If only he could have finished what he started, instead of missing an off-balance, 40-footer with one second left to seal Maryland's 87-84 loss to Florida State.

For once, McLinton hesitated before putting his head down and pounding his way upcourt, but the maddening finish didn't diminish another remarkable performance by a player many believed would never start -- much less star -- in the ACC.

Gary Williams wants McLinton listed among the top point guards in the conference, and who's to argue? McLinton has averaged 20.5 points against No. 3 Duke the past two seasons. In the past month, he has twice reached career highs against No. 10 Florida State.

"Kevin McLinton could be a first-round draft choice against us every night," said Florida State coach Pat Kennedy, who saw McLinton score 28 points on his team in Tallahassee, then explode for 25 of his 32 in the second half yesterday.

The sad part is, Maryland has won only 17 ACC games in McLinton's four seasons, including its 1-10 record this season. Just as the program is starting to show life -- Williams started three freshmen against a team with four NBA prospects -- it's time for McLinton to say goodbye.

"It's frustrating," he said. "At the beginning of the season, I thought we'd have a good basketball team. We do have a good basketball team, but we're young. Sometimes we don't execute in certain situations. I take part of the blame. You've got to be men about it. We weren't men at the end of the game."

McLinton took too long getting started with 6.2 seconds left, found himself trapped by Florida State's Sam Cassell and Rodney Dobard, then panicked and rushed upcourt. That wasn't Maryland's only missed opportunity, merely the last one. McLinton, however, is not one for excuses.

Maryland normally starts two other seniors -- forward Evers Burns and center Chris Kerwin -- but it's McLinton who has

emerged as the leader of this team. Williams wouldn't dare criticize him for his failure to produce in the final seconds. He owes McLinton too much.

"He read the situation going into this year," Williams said. "A lot of people talked about the freshman class. But he knew we were losing 40 points a game from Walt [Williams] and Vince [Broadnax]. He took the responsibility on himself."

Even now, playing with a severely bruised toe, McLinton refuses to stop. The injury occurred against Virginia 10 days ago. McLinton scored seven points in his next game against Georgia Tech, then four points on 0-for-7 shooting against North Carolina. Yesterday, he only looked fine.

McLinton iced his toe after the game -- "Unfortunately, I can't rest it," he said. "I've got to keep playing." The attitude isn't surprising, not for a former high school football star who was recruited as a defensive back by West Virginia and a fellow at Holy Cross named Mark Duffner.

He wasn't as hot a prospect in basketball, drawing interest from schools such as George Washington, George Mason and American. McLinton chose Maryland so he could remain close to his mother in Silver Spring. His father, former Redskins linebacker Harold McLinton, died after being hit by a car in 1980.

How fitting, then, that the final 20 minutes evolved into a duel between McLinton and another overlooked high school guard -- Florida State's Bobby Sura. Williams said: "We're just as guilty as everyone else," for missing on Sura, a native of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., who scored 23 of his 34 points in the second half.

The game grew so intense, McLinton shoved Sura in the back after a whistle with 2:13 left. Each shrugged off the incident -- "We were just having a little fun in the heat of battle," Sura said -- and each praised the other. Yet, McLinton could only wish he had Sura's future.

Sura, the ACC Rookie of the Year last season, is a certain NBA prospect. McLinton, at 6 feet 3 and 218 pounds, has the size, not to mention the desire. But his game is still rough around the edges. He probably will be remembered as a good college player, nothing more.

If that's the case, so be it. McLinton is a criminal justice major, and if he can't make it in the NBA, he'll attend law school. "I'm going to do something with my life," Kevin McLinton vowed, as only he can. "You won't hear the end of me."

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