Simpkins drives by first obstacle

November 27, 1993|By KEN ROSENTHAL

LANDOVER -- Can one shot make a point guard? Duane Simpkins thinks so. Gary Williams hopes so. And the fate of Maryland's season might depend on the answer.

It was only one game, only the season opener, but what a game, what an upset, what a gutsy, storybook shot.

First, the Maryland sophomore drove past Georgetown senior Joey Brown, who torched him in a summer-league game before last season and dissed him with an elbow in the ribs in the second half.

Then, he lofted a left-handed layup over the outstretched fingers of 6-foot-8 forward Don Reid, who shook his head and smiled later when asked how close he came to making the game-saving block.

Three seconds remained in overtime.

Simpkins was 2-for-11 from the field.

Maryland trailed by one point.

"The last thing I told Duane was that against a man-to-man [defense] make sure you drop it off," Williams said in the giddy aftermath of Maryland's 84-83 victory.

"He dropped it off -- in the basket."

Simpkins didn't see his shot fall; Reid had hit him in the head. But the way the pro-Maryland crowd at the USAir Arena reacted, he knew he had made the play of his life.

After time expired, he leaped onto the press table, pumped his fist in joy and collapsed into the arms of Maryland teammates Keith Booth and Wayne Bristol.

Can one shot make a point guard?

Maybe this one did.

"It helps me a whole lot," Simpkins said. "In my mind, there weren't any questions at point guard -- I knew I was the man. It was just a matter of getting a game like this to get me some foundation."

Now, he has it -- even after an uneven performance that raised numerous questions about his ability.

Simpkins can't shoot. He isn't a dynamic penetrator. And he doesn't make dazzling entry passes. But in the end, what do you want from your point guard?

Poise with the game on the line.

And courage to make the big play.

"I just wanted a 'W,' " said Simpkins, who finished with nine points, three turnovers and three assists. "The way I look at it, I could turn the ball over, or I could score 30 points. If we don't get a 'W,' everything comes back on me."

Chances are, he'll undergo such scrutiny, perhaps even before Maryland enters its ACC schedule in January.

If there was one disturbing sign yesterday -- on a day Joe Smith set a Maryland freshman record with 26 points and Booth made a fearless, ferocious college debut -- it was the Terps' inability to score for long stretches.

The score was tied 26-26 with four minutes left in the first half, but Georgetown led 38-28 at halftime, and 51-37 with 12:32 left. Eleven points in 11 minutes, a Princeton pace.

Such droughts can be expected from a team that played three freshmen and two sophomores in OT. But Maryland started its comeback without Simpkins. And Booth, the starting small forward, repeatedly handled the ball late in the second half.

Ultimately, Maryland might be better with Johnny Rhodes at the point, Exree Hipp at shooting guard and Mario Lucas at power forward -- or with Rhodes at the point and freshman sharpshooter Nick Bosnic at shooting guard.

Williams, though, doesn't want Rhodes to become the next Walt Williams, playing out of position for the good of the team. And he doesn't want to dismiss Simpkins, a McDonald's All-American at DeMatha High.

Simpkins added 10 pounds to his 6-foot, 173-pound frame over the summer, so it didn't even hurt when Brown elbowed him as they jockeyed for position on an inbounds play when Georgetown still led by 10 points.

"He was giving me a gut check, seeing where I was coming from," Simpkins said, smiling. "Little did he know, I was in the weight room lifting this summer."

Simpkins had success against Brown early, scoring five points in the first six minutes, but those were his only points until he made two free throws to give Maryland a 76-73 lead with 19 seconds left in regulation.

Everyone in the building expected him to pass at the end of OT. Williams ordered him to pass. But Simpkins weaved his way toward the basket, and the Georgetown defense just kept backing up.

Almost right away, Brown reached for a steal, but pulled back, wincing at the missed opportunity. Moments later, Brown tried again. Simpkins put the ball between his legs, and took off.

"Sometimes when I get in that situation, I just want to be a hero," said Simpkins -- a hero and a point guard, not necessarily in that order.

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