Terps waste late run

February 06, 1994|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Staff Writer

COLLEGE PARK -- Was it live, or was it misery?

They fell behind by a lot early.

They caught up late.

They lost again.

The No. 21 and soon-to-be unranked Maryland Terrapins are getting good at second-half comebacks, just not good enough. Evidence to that came during yesterday's 83-71 defeat to Georgia Tech at Cole Field House.

It was the third straight loss in the Atlantic Coast Conference for Maryland (12-6, 5-4) and the second straight in which the slumping Terps hurt their chances by getting out to a sluggish start.

The victory broke a three-game losing streak for Georgia Tech (12-8, 3-6).

What also cost Maryland was its inability to score at the end, or stop Georgia Tech guard Travis Best, who finished with a game-high 23 points to lead the Yellow Jackets on a game-breaking 17-3 run in the final two minutes. It came after the Terps had climbed back from a 10-point deficit with a little over 11 minutes left to twice tie with under three minutes to play.

"Our defensive effort was not there at the start," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, whose team had similar problems in last Wednesday's seven-point loss at Virginia. "We are a good team when we play exceptional defense. When we don't, we're a very average team."

After Georgia Tech hit its first seven shots to build leads of 12-2 and 16-5, the Terps spent the rest of the afternoon playing catch-up. They finally did when Joe Smith, still struggling with his jump shot, hit a 10-footer to tie the game at 63 with four minutes to go. Following a finger-roll drive by Drew Barry, Maryland freshman Keith Booth tied it again with a monstrous tip-in of a Smith miss with 2:54 remaining.

"We were falling apart," said Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins, whose Yellow Jackets were feeling the cumulative effects of their own slide, which included five defeats in their last six games. "We cracked but we did not break."

Instead, it was the Terps who crumbled. After a questionable blocking call against Maryland's Exree Hipp, which resulted in a pair of free throws by Georgia Tech guard Fred Vinson, Smith tried to tip-in his own miss after Johnny Rhodes seemingly had. The 6-foot-10 freshman center got his hand on the ball, but was called for goaltending. (Smith said later it was.)

The Yellow Jackets immediately built their lead to four, on a post-up layup by a hobbling James Forrest, who had sprained an ankle earlier in the game. Then came a turnover following confusion between Rhodes and backcourt mate Duane Simpkins. After another basket by Forrest (12 points), Smith got called for a moving pick. Barry made two free throws. Simpkins, who was nearly invisible in 36 minutes (five points, one assist, two turnovers) and Hipp each missed threes. Tech center Ivano Newbill made a pair of free throws.

"We were playing so well until the goaltending," said Hipp, who along with Booth finished with 17 points for Maryland. "I thought it could have gone either way. But I thought it took the fire out of us. It was just downhill after that."

Said Forrest: "After the goaltending, they seemed to get frustrated."

Maryland's last chance, however slight, came when a three-pointer by Hipp cut Georgia Tech's lead to six, 74-68, with 50 seconds to play. Hipp stole the inbounds pass, but immediately threw the ball out of bounds. The Yellow Jackets ran off seven straight points to put the Terps away.

As bad as its defense was at the start, and as good as it was to help Maryland climb back in the second half, the offense eventually did the Terps in again. They finished 25 of 68 from the field, their third straight game shooting under 40 percent from the field.

Smith continued to be double-teamed and extended his shooting slump, going five of 20 for 12 points, 16 fewer than he scored in Maryland's 91-88 win at Georgia Tech last month. It was the first time in what has been a remarkable debut season that Smith took some bad shots. He had 13 rebounds and four blocked shots, but also had eight of Maryland's 18 turnovers.

"We didn't execute our offense," said Smith, now 15 of 60 in his past four games. "I don't know why. We just came out flat."

Said Williams: "I was not surprised that Tech played well. That happens sometimes when a team has its back against the wall."

Clearly, that's the position Maryland finds itself in. After losing at Duke and Virginia, the Terps now must go back on the road to face probable No. 1 North Carolina on Thursday night and then quickly improving Florida State on Saturday in Tallahassee.

But first they will have to face Williams at practice tomorrow.

"Our team has to learn that every team in this league is good," he said. "We have to understand what makes us good."

Said Rhodes, who played a remarkable game with 16 points, a career-high 12 rebounds and four assists: "What we need to do is go back to being a blue-collar team. We have to go to working hard, and not care about where we're ranked. We have to go out and play Maryland basketball."

One more thing: The Terps have to change the tape. And come up with a new beginning, not to mention a different ending.

Technical fouls: none. Halftime: Georgia Tech 44, Maryland 34. A -- 14,500.

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