Win over Tech gives Terps fresh outlook

January 06, 1994|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Staff Writer

ATLANTA -- They were too young to remember the last time a University of Maryland basketball team beat Georgia Tech at Alexander Memorial Coliseum, and much too confident to care about all the disasters that have taken place here during the intervening years.

To provide some perspective on their perspective, the last time a Maryland team won here, most of these Terrapins were either still in or barely out of kindergarten. Gary Williams was in his third season at American University and Bobby Cremins, then in his last year at Appalachian State before coming here, still had black hair.

"We're a young team, so we're not too familiar with the history," freshman forward Keith Booth said after Maryland shocked 12th-ranked Georgia Tech, 91-88, to open the Atlantic Coast Conference season Tuesday night. "We just know that if we come out and play hard, we have a chance to beat anybody."

The Terps needed every bit of their 17-2 start, their 53-36 halftime lead and their 73-55 lead with a little more than 11 minutes remaining. They needed nearly every one of freshman center Joe Smith's 28 points and 13 rebounds, and the 36 points shared equally by sophomore guards Duane Simpkins and Johnny Rhodes. They needed Booth's 14 points and 11 rebounds.

Just when it seemed Georgia Tech (9-2, 0-1 in the ACC) would make another of its second-half comebacks and have one of its miracle finishes that have become part of the lore of "The Thrillerdome," the Yellow Jackets started missing shots and making turnovers.

And just when it looked as if Maryland (8-2, 1-0) would have one of those monumental collapses that have become painfully familiar the past few years, the Terps made enough defensive stops and free throws to hang on for the school's first win on Georgia Tech's home court in 13 seasons.

"I think when you play a team that has the tradition that Bobby has brought to the program, and you are up 17 at halftime, that's really not a 17-point lead," said Williams, who beat Cremins for only the second time in nine games at Maryland. "We're never going to come in here and win a game against Georgia Tech by 15 points. But this is one game and you've got to keep it in perspective."

But it was Maryland's biggest win of the season, bigger than the 84-83 overtime win over then-15th-ranked Georgetown in the season opener because of when it occurred on the schedule. Coming off a 94-80 loss against eighth-ranked Massachusetts, and going into Saturday's home game against No. 2 North Carolina, the Terps needed to win one of their first three ACC games to gain a little confidence.

Williams couldn't have asked for a better scenario: The victory takes the pressure off a team that has started poorly in the ACC the past two years, and now has three days to get ready for the defending national champions. While another upset might be asking too much, Maryland comes back to Cole Field House with absolutely nothing to lose.

"The thing you're concerned with is keeping up that level of emotion," said Williams. "Just like in the game [Tuesday]. We came out a little flat in the second half, but we got it back the last few minutes. We have a couple of days to get the emotion level back up for North Carolina."

Truth is, this Maryland team doesn't play with much emotion. But the hardest-working team Williams has had since a bunch of overachievers finished 16-14 in 1990-91, playing more than half the season without star guard Walt Williams. Without Williams, that team was strictly blue-collar; with the addition of Smith and Booth, this one is nearly all blue-chip.

"Maryland's a very good team, and you see the talent that they have recruited has started to develop," said Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins, whose loss was his first to Maryland here since he became the Yellow Jackets' coach in 1981-82. "I thought they came in here and just took it to us."

First it was Simpkins, who made all five of his first-half shots and scored 15 points before halftime. Then it was Smith, who recovered from a slow start to finish 14 of 26 from the field. Smith's point total was the highest by a Maryland freshman in an ACC game.

The Terps wound up shooting a season-high 62.7 percent from the field, including nine of 14 from three-point range. They out-rebounded the taller Yellow Jackets, 52-39, and overcame 24 turnovers. It was Maryland's first win in an ACC opener in four years, the first road win to open the conference season in a decade.

"For me, winning this game is really big because it's the first team we've beaten in the ACC other than N.C. State," said Simpkins, who matched his career high, set last week against Massachusetts. "It helps get us off to a good start in the league. I think we're going to surprise a few people."

Maybe not anymore.

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