Uphill climb too steep for Terps in 79-71 loss

February 24, 1994|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Staff Writer

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Maryland basketball team again proved its amazing capacity for comebacks last night at Reynolds Coliseum, but the Terrapins also proved something else against North Carolina State.

Don't spot anybody a 25-point halftime lead, not even the Atlantic Coast Conference's last-place team.

Maryland did just that, and while things got interesting for a while in the second half, the Terps wound up losing, 79-71.

Behind sophomore guard Johnny Rhodes and freshman center Joe Smith, Maryland nearly erased the memory of its 4-for-32 first-half shooting along with much of the Wolfpack's 39-14 halftime lead. The Terps got within five twice in the second half, the second time at 58-53 with a little more than seven minutes left. But they got no closer.

The defeat, which broke a three-game winning streak, dropped Maryland (15-8, 7-6) back into a fourth-place tie in the ACC with Wake Forest. More importantly, it prevented the Terps from all but clinching a spot in this year's NCAA tournament and put some pressure on them going into Saturday's game at Clemson.

"Realistically, you don't have much of a chance when you're down 25 at the half, but when we cut it to five, we had a shot," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, whose team opened the second half with a 21-2 run. "When you get behind like that, it's easy to play catch-up because there's no pressure. Good teams play 40 minutes. We played 20."

How bad was Maryland in the first half?

The Terps went nearly seven minutes in one stretch without a field goal as N.C. State (10-15, 4-9) increased a one-point lead to 11, then went the final 15:05 of the half with only one basket. The Wolfpack led by as many as 27 in the final minute.

"We're so used to making our shots lately, that we told ourselves they would come," said sophomore guard Duane Simpkins, who finished with 15 points, 13 in the second half. "But they never came. We put ourselves in too big a hole so even when we made our shots in the second half, it was too much for us to come back."

How hot was Maryland in the second half?

The Terps took less than two minutes to equal their first-half field-goal production, scored as many points in the first 4:18 of the second half as they did in the first 20 minutes and had their deficit down to 41-35, on a short jumper by Rhodes with 12:53 to go. Rhodes would finish with a season-high 23 points, 19 in the second half, to go along with 11 rebounds.

"It was like pinball, they were putting up numbers so fast," said N.C. State coach Les Robinson, whose team scored only once in the first 7 1/2 minutes of the second half.

But Maryland eventually cooled off as the Wolfpack, behind a career-high 21 points by sophomore center Todd Fuller and 19 points for junior guard Lakista McCuller, regained its composure and never relinquished its lead. After Rhodes put back his own miss to cut the deficit to 56-51, Fuller hit an 18-footer for N.C.

State.

After another basket by Rhodes made it 58-53, McCuller sandwiched back-to-back three-pointers around a layup by Smith (18 points) to push the Wolfpack ahead by 64-55 with 4:35 to go. A traveling call against Keith Booth with 3:35 left and a pair of missed free throws by Rhodes effectively ended any chance of a comeback.

"I got some great looks at the basket," said McCuller, who scored all but one of his six baskets from three-point range on a night when N.C. State made 11 of 25 threes. "I was determined not to let those guys come back and beat us."

For N.C. State, the victory took away some of the sting from its 32-point defeat last month in College Park. The first half last night was a complete reverse of Sunday's 27-point loss to Duke in which the Wolfpack made four of 30 shots. The win, its first over Maryland in six games, also moved N.C. State into a tie with Clemson for last place in the ACC.

And, unlike its recent comeback and narrow loss down the road at North Carolina, Maryland can't feel as confident about itself after last night's disastrous first half. In a season filled with high points, it was undoubtedly the low point for the Terps.

It also will add some intrigue to the final three games of the regular season. It begins Saturday against the Tigers at Littlejohn Coliseum, where Maryland hasn't won in six years, and continues with home games next week against Duke and Virginia. The Terps need to finish .500 in the league to ensure getting an NCAA bid.

"I think we're still in pretty good shape," said Smith. "If we come out and play hard, we have a chance to win our last three games."

Said Simpkins: "I guess it's pressure. Myself, I'd rather look at it as an opportunity."

Like the one that passed in the blur of a 25-point halftime deficit here last night.

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