Michigan scratches clawing Terps

March 26, 1994|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Staff Writer

DALLAS -- Their march through this year's NCAA tournament stopped last night in the Sweet 16 of the Midwest Regional at Reunion Arena.

The Maryland Terrapins might be coming home, but not before giving Michigan some anxious moments down the stretch. After falling behind by as many as 21 points with a little under nine minutes left, the 10th-seeded Terps made one of their trademark comebacks. They closed twice to within six in the final 90 seconds before losing to the third-seeded Wolverines, 78-71.

The defeat ended a remarkable turnaround season for Maryland (18-12), which was picked to finish near the bottom of the Atlantic Coast Conference and ended up as one of the Cinderella teams in the country.

The victory extended an amazing run for Michigan (24-7), which will now try to go to its third straight Final Four. The Wolverines will play top-seeded Arkansas, which earlier in the evening blew out No. 11 seed Tulsa, 103-84. The winner of tomorrow's game will go to Charlotte, N.C., next week.

"I thought our team coming back like it did was typical of the effort they gave all year," said Maryland coach Gary Williams. "We did not shoot well from the field or the free-throw line. We didn't run our offense as well as we've been running it, but I think that was a credit to Michigan's defense."

Said Michigan coach Steve Fisher: "We got the win and we're one of the final eight teams playing. It was not a pretty win, but we'll take it."

Freshman forward Keith Booth of Baltimore led the Terps with 17 points, but his struggle from the free-throw line epitomized Maryland's most obvious flaw. Booth was seven of 11 from the field, but missed eight of 11 from the line. The Terps missed 17 of 36 free throws for the game, while shooting 24 of 67 from the field.

Michigan's defense was designed to limit freshman center Joe Smith, and the Wolverines accomplished that for most of the night. Smith finished with 12 points -- less than half what he'd been averaging in this year's NCAA tournament.

VTC But he was as inconspicuous as his name for the first 30 minutes. Junior center Juwan Howard led the Wolverines with 24 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out with 2:49 to go.

Asked if he played the game he wanted, Smith said after being held to three of eight shooting, "I played the game I could $H tonight. Michigan played good defense and kept the ball out of my hands most of the time."

Seemingly on its way to a blowout defeat, Maryland made things interesting in the final seven minutes. After trailing 66-45 with a little under nine minutes left, the Terps cut their deficit to six, 75-69, on a rebound follow by Exree Hipp with 1:32 left and to 77-71 on a pair of free throws by Smith with 40.8 seconds to go.

"I think if we could have made one more basket, we had a chance down the stretch," said Williams, who earlier in the half had picked up a technical that seemed to wake up his team. "It was disappointing to lose, but these guys had a great year."

Said Hipp, who after a fast start finished with nine points on four-of-12 shooting, "Michigan played the best defense I've seen them play all year. But if we executed the offense the way we've been doing in the tournament, we'd still be playing."

Hipp was alluding to a stretch in the first half when Maryland saw a 27-25 lead become a 37-28 deficit with 2:23 to go in the half.

The Terps trailed by seven, 39-32, at the half despite getting only one basket in the last 8:17 and only two points, on free throws, from Smith.

After Smith's first basket of the game on Maryland's first possession of the second half cut the deficit to five, things began to deteriorate for the Terps. The Wolverines, behind Howard and Jalen Rose (16 points) went on an 18-4 run that concluded with Williams' technical.

"You don't like getting technicals, but I thought it helped pick up the intensity of our team," said Williams.

Said point guard Duane Simpkins: "I think we showed what we showed all year. Our heart and our courage."

And Michigan showed what it has demonstrated recently: an inability to put teams away.

As happened in their opening-round overtime win against 14th-seeded Pepperdine, as well as against sixth-seeded Texas, the Wolverines started self-destructing.

Bad shots and poor free-throw shooting, including seven straight misses down the stretch, contributed to Maryland's comeback.

But the Terps couldn't quite get close enough to make it come down to a last-second shot, and Michigan sneaked away with another narrow victory.

"They're going to be good the next few years," said Rose. "Tonight we were the most experienced team and tried to take advantage of that."

In the end, Michigan did just that. But not without the Terps providing some anxious moments for the Wolverines, and a few lasting memories from their ride to the Sweet 16.

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