Terps roll by Wake, 81-58

February 17, 1994|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Staff Writer

COLLEGE PARK -- Suddenly, the four-game losing streak seems so long ago. Suddenly, the Maryland basketball team is back to the level it was playing on a month ago.

And suddenly, the Terrapins are on the brink of making their first NCAA tournament in six years. After righting itself Saturday at Florida State, Maryland rolled last night at Cole Field House.

With their most impressive home performance of the Atlantic Coast Conference season, the Terps rocked Wake Forest, 81-58, before a sellout crowd of 14,500. It marked the second straight victory for Maryland, and the first time it has swept the Demon Deacons since the 1987-88 season.

The victory moved Maryland (14-7, 7-5) ahead of Wake Forest (16-8, 6-5), which had come into the night as the ACC's hottest team, with four straight wins. The Terps, who started the night in fifth place, are tied for third with Virginia. The Cavaliers lost at Duke last night, 84-54.

"Over the last two weeks, we've played a very tough schedule," said Maryland coach Gary Williams. "We didn't get the wins, but we played well against North Carolina, Virginia and Georgia Tech. I thought we were becoming a better basketball team. Tonight, we played well. It was nice to see."

It was also surprising to see, considering the way Maryland never has made things easy on itself. After not being able to put away the Seminoles when they had the chance in Tallahassee, then coming from behind to win, the Terps broke away from Wake Forest early and never looked back.

Behind the hot shooting of sophomore guard Johnny Rhodes, who scored 14 of his game-high 19 points in the first half, Maryland built a 20-point lead less than 15 minutes into the game, led by 16 at halftime and opened the second half with a 19-8 run. The Terps led by as many as 29 before Williams cleared his bench.

"The way you start a game is going to affect the way you're going to play later on," said sophomore guard Duane Simpkins, who set the tone by driving early, or kicking it out to Rhodes for open jumpers. "When you dig yourselves a hole, it makes it so hard."

Said Rhodes, who hit three of five three-pointers in a 7-for-14 shooting performance, "I've been kind of lighting it up in practice, so I went into the game looking to shoot more. I was open because of Duane, and I was hitting my shots."

Aside from Rhodes, who also had a game-high 12 rebounds (seven offensive), Maryland had four other players in double figures: freshman center Joe Smith finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds; Simpkins scored 14, 12 before halftime and all before being momentarily knocked out after running into a blind-side screen set by Trelonnie Owens; and sophomore forwards Exree Hipp and Mario Lucas each added 10.

Meanwhile, it was a horrific night for the Demon Deacons, who for the second time this season lost to Maryland after beating Duke. The performance was lowlighted by senior guard Randolph Childress, who finished with a season-low four points, none in the second half, on 1-for-8 shooting.

"Like I told my team, sometimes the hardest thing to do is admit you got beat by a better team, but Maryland is better right now," said Wake Forest coach Dave Odom. "This might be outlandish to say, but Maryland is the best team we played all year. We have difficulty matching up with their speed and quickness. Maryland has the ability to beat anybody the way they are playing."

The victory, which gives Maryland its most ACC wins in Williams' five years and the most since the 1984-85 team won eight, sets up the remainder of the regular season nicely. With eight conference wins considered to be the magic number for an ACC team to make the NCAA tournament, the Terps must win only one of their remaining four league games: at N.C. State and Clemson next week, home against Duke and Virginia the following week.

But Williams is not looking that far in the future.

"We've still got a long way to go, we've got Loyola this Saturday and we've got to win that," he said.

Anyone say slump? What slump?

NOTES: Maryland is 12-0 when leading at halftime. . . . Wake Forest freshman C Tim Duncan overtook Smith for the ACC lead in blocked shots with seven last night to the Terp's one.

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