For one game, Smith just an ordinary Joe

January 30, 1994|By JOHN EISENBERG

DURHAM, N.C. -- Finally, Joe Smith lived down to his name yesterday against Duke.

He was not Maryland's Famous, Sensational Freshman Joooooe Smith!

Just Joe. Smith.

As in vanilla.

He played 11 minutes before scoring a point. He finished the game with three baskets. He got blistered on defense, heckled by the Duke smarty-pants fans and flustered for the first time as a Terp.

In other words, he behaved like a typical freshman in his first game at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

"It was tough out there," he said after Duke's 75-62 win in a game between the ACC co-leaders, which will go down, among other things, as Smith's first official dose of real life as a collegian.

Not surprisingly, of course.

If it was going to happen, it was going to happen here. The schedule doesn't get any tougher than Duke, at Duke. No atmosphere is more intimidating or distracting. No team is more consistently prepared or talented.

A freshman can make a name for himself at home against anyone, even a North Carolina, or on the road against a Wake or Tech. But it is a far more daunting task to make a name for yourself in your first game at Duke.

Considering how well Smith has played this season, it wouldn't have been a complete surprise had he come in and dominated. But that he didn't was hardly a shock. As Terps coach Gary Williams said after the game, "You have to come in here and play once," inferring that your first visit is more or less for educational purposes.

"A lot of people told me what it was going to be like," Smith said, "but hearing about it and experiencing it were two different things."

Experiencing the legion of wiseacre students right on top of the court, standing and hollering the whole game. Experiencing a typically loaded, smart Duke team feeding off the atmosphere.

Experiencing a chant of "over-rated, over-rated" as Smith did while shooting free throws with some nine minutes left, when the tenor of his afternoon was already well established.

Welcome to the bigs, kid.

This was the inevitable downside of all the legend-building Smith has accomplished in his first two months at Maryland. He was a marked man yesterday. Duke center Cherokee Parks was in a froth.

"I think Cherokee took this game as a personal challenge," Duke guard Chris Collins said. "All you hear is Joe Smith this, Joe Smith that. And Eric Montross this, Eric Montross that. Cherokee has been playing some good basketball and not getting the same respect."

Parks is an inch taller, two years older and 25 pounds heavier than Smith, full of sly post moves and able to score from the perimeter. His shortcoming is his inconsistency, but he is wicked when operating at a peak, as he was yesterday. He hit everything from 18-footers to jump hooks, and just flat bulled past the slimmer Smith several times.

At the other end, Parks, Grant Hill and Antonio Lang used a double-team to limit Smith. They closed in on him after he caught the ball. "He didn't have as much room to move as he had in his other games," said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, whose team improved to 15-1.

Against such a mobile front court, Smith's quickness wasn't the advantage it was against Montross and other, more traditional post men.

Of course, all of the young Terps, not just Smith, learned lessons yesterday. They came in cocky -- point guard Duane Simpkins had proclaimed Duke "very beatable" without Bobby Hurley -- and got blown out in the second half. There were numerous factors. Keith Booth's foul trouble. Exree Hipp and Simpkins combining to shoot 5-for-21 from the field.

Duke.

Smith did keep his composure, a feat in which the Terps can take solace. Their franchise loses just as he wins, without emotion. His approach is stunningly mature for a freshman: all business, no trash talk. Had he not revealed later that he had felt frustration, no one would have known.

"For a few minutes there when I couldn't get to face the basket, yeah, I was feeling frustrated," he said.

The sound you hear is Williams applauding. Yes, applauding. No coach relishes a loss, but this one he could reconcile, even welcome. The game was much less essential to the Terps' postseason chances than this week's at Virginia and at home against Tech -- no one expected them to win yesterday -- and it didn't hurt Smith to learn that ACC life isn't the breeze he'd experienced.

"You have to keep things realistic," Williams said.

Smith probably knew things were going to get tougher, of course. But now he has the memory of the Duke fans chanting "over-rated, over-rated" to drive home the point. Think he'll forget?

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