Simpkins points Terps to 73-53 win

January 27, 1994|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Staff Writer

COLLEGE PARK -- Clemson came into sold-out Cole Field House last night with the idea of stopping Maryland freshman center Joe Smith. Although the Tigers were successful in that venture, they didn't do nearly as well stopping the rest of the Terrapins.

With the Atlantic Coast Conference's leading scorer held to 14 points -- including no field goals in the first 17 minutes of the second half -- Duane Simpkins stepped up to lead 18th-ranked Maryland to a 73-53 victory and a share of first place in the ACC with Duke.

The fast-improving sophomore point guard finished with 18 points, tying his career high and continuing a streak that has reached eight straight double-figure games. Freshman forward Keith Booth finished with 15 points, and helped the Terps break open a close game in the final five minutes.

The victory was the fourth straight in the ACC for Maryland (12-3, 5-1) -- the most by the Terps since the 1983-84 team won seven straight -- and gave the school its best start in the ACC in 14 seasons. It also set up Maryland's nationally televised showdown with the second-ranked Blue Devils on Saturday at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

"We can't be a one-man team," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, alluding to the way the other players stepped up while Smith was held to eight points below his season's average. "We knew that they were going to try to stop Joe. It did open up some things for the other guys, but until we started hitting our shots, we couldn't do what we wanted."

After seeing an early 10-point lead cut to five by halftime, and a 13-point lead early in the second half cut to 54-49 with a little over seven minutes remaining, Maryland came out of a much-needed timeout and tore apart the Tigers with its pressure defense.

A pair of free throws by Smith, a steal and dunk by Booth and a rare three-point shot by the former Dunbar star pushed the Terps ahead by 12. After a dunk by Sharone Wright with 5:08 to go, Maryland scored the next 13 points, before the Tigers got their final points on a pair of free throws with 25 seconds to play.

"We were right there," said Clemson coach Cliff Ellis. "The key was turnovers. Too many turnovers [29]. We were still in the game. That is strictly the difference."

The difference was that while Smith was holding Wright to a season-low six points, the 6-foot-11, 255-pound Clemson center was getting little help and getting very frustrated. Wright wound up with nine turnovers and fouled out with a little over three minutes left.

Even though Smith was held in check and went only four of 10 from the field, his defense on Wright as well as his rebounding (10) and blocked shots (three) certainly contributed to Maryland's victory. The win helped the Terps equal their entire output from last season.

"That's not the most players another team used to stop me, but they were the biggest team that did it," said Smith, who was double- and sometimes triple-teamed. "It was tough, but the other guys did a great job."

Said Clemson forward Devin Gray of Baltimore: "We did a good job stopping Joe. But the key to a good team is when the other guys pick up the slack. That's what they did and we didn't do."

Not only did Simpkins continue to shoot well -- finishing six of nine from the field, including four of six on threes -- but fellow sophomore Johnny Rhodes came out of a deep freeze. After missing 18 straight threes, Rhodes hit three in a row while the Terps were building a couple of 13-point leads.

"It was really important for me to hit those shots," said Rhodes, who finished with 11 points, six rebounds and four assists. "I kept saying every day that my shot is going to fall. I'm glad it came tonight."

It couldn't have come at a better time for the Terps, with their trip to Durham looming. Maryland hasn't beat Duke anywhere since a 72-69 win at Cameron Indoor Stadium during the 1987-88 season -- the last year it made the NCAA tournament.

"We're looking forward to it," said Simpkins. "We want them to be at their best, and we want to be at our best. Let's see who's the better team."

Asked if he's surprised how well his team is playing, Williams said, "I think the key thing is that you don't put any expectations or limitations on your team. We've got a couple of days to work on things to get ready for Duke. We're nowhere near where we can be as a basketball team."

But one thing is obvious: the Terps are not a one-man team, either. They proved that last night.

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