Last year's promise has come full circle for Terps

February 02, 1994|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Staff Writer

CHARLOTTSVILLE, VA — CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- With his team getting blown out by Virginia midway through the second half of last year's game at University Hall, Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams pulled two senior starters, Kevin McLinton and Chris Kerwin, putting freshmen Duane Simpkins and Mario Lucas in their place.

It left the Terrapins with a team of four freshmen -- regular starters Johnny Rhodes and Exree Hipp, Simpkins and Lucas -- and senior forward Evers Burns. Suddenly, Maryland's tempo changed, from plodding to explosive. And suddenly, the Terps found themselves on the brink of an upset.

"The pace of the game was almost like night and day," Simpkins recalled yesterday before practice at Cole Field House. "With Kevin at the point, it was slower and you could get more out of a half-court game, but not as much out of transition. I think it showed the kind of team we could become."

Though they didn't win that day -- after cutting a 20-point deficit to six, the Terps wound up losing, 88-74 -- that stretch served as a glimmer of hope in an otherwise disappointing 12-15 season. And it should revive some happy, if unfulfilled, memories tonight.

But a lot has changed for Maryland since that afternoon last March. While the style of play is similar, the addition of freshmen Joe Smith and Keith Booth has given Williams the most athletic starting lineup in the Atlantic Coast Conference. And the pressure has become a lot different as well on these Terps.

Tonight's game against Virginia (11-5, 5-2 ACC) could enable thNo. 21-ranked Terps to regain their momentum and confidence after Saturday's 75-62 loss at Duke. It also could help Maryland (12-4, 5-2) break a second-place tie in the ACC with the Cavaliers and North Carolina.

"We have to think about Virginia because there's nothing you can do about the schedule," said Williams, whose young team is in the midst of playing four of five games on the road. "Our schedule is no different than anyone else. We're in a stretch of road games. You don't want the players to think you're doing anything different than anyone else."

Simpkins said: "I look to this as a very important game, especially going into the second half of the ACC season, starting with Georgia Tech (at home Saturday) and North Carolina."

While the Terps have a different look than they did here last year, so do the Cavaliers. Not by design, but literally by accident. When junior point guard Cory Alexander broke his leg in December, most figured Virginia would struggle, particularly when the ACC season began.

Instead, the Cavaliers have flourished behind the solid and sometimes spectacular play of freshman Harold Deane. Recruited as an afterthought -- he nearly went to Radford -- Deane has become something of a savior for an otherwise veteran team.

"I think Virginia and [coach] Jeff Jones deserve a lot of credit," Williams said yesterday of his biggest competitor for ACC Coach of the Year. "Alexander is a great player. I didn't think they could lose a player of that ability and still find a way to win. Their veteran players have stepped up. They refused to let the team get bad."

Jones, whose Cavaliers upset North Carolina in Charlottesville two weeks ago, knows that the Maryland team he will see tonight won't be like the one he saw last year. By watching on tape, Jones said yesterday that the difference is obvious.

"I think this team is playing with more enthusiasm," Jones said. "Their young guys are excited. Putting a guy like Joe Smith at the back of their pressure defense is tremendous. In some ways they don't have any pressure on them because there were not a lot of expectations going into the season."

But the expectations have changed, just as suddenly as last year's game turned here with the Cavaliers.

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