With Maui bubble burst, Terps come back to earth

November 25, 1994|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Staff Writer

LAHAINA, Hawaii -- Now, the hype will dissipate. Now, Gary Williams and his University of Maryland basketball team can go back to being just another Top 25 college program. And now, the Terrapins can begin the rest of their season.

What began last March in Wichita, Kan., with the upset of Massachusetts by the upstart Terps in the second round of the NCAA tournament was put on hold here Wednesday night when the seventh-ranked Terps were upset themselves, by unranked Arizona State in the final of the Maui Invitational.

"I think we're a good basketball team, but like all teams at this time of the year, there are things we have to work on," Williams said after his Terps lost to the hot-shooting Sun Devils, 97-90. "What we have to do better is play better team defense. When a team shoots 60 percent, most of the time you're not going to beat them."

In Arizona State, Maryland faced a team that had spent the past three years beset by injuries. The Sun Devils also played a similar style to the Terps -- only they did it better in beating both Maryland and 13th-ranked Michigan at the Lahaina Civic Center.

Arizona State's quickness allowed it to break Maryland's vaunted full-court press with ease for most of the first half, getting six breakaway dunks early in the game. Its outside shooting, as well as 6-foot-9 center Mario Bennett's presence inside, bothered the Terps throughout the night.

"They're the quickest team we've played since I've been at Maryland," said Williams. "With Bennett, they have a nice inside-out combination."

After Bennett's 14 points in the first half helped the Sun Devils to an early nine-point lead, Arizona State's outside shooting doomed the Terps' chances.

Maryland had closed its halftime deficit to four points and had taken a four-point lead midway through the second half when four straight three-pointers in a period of 3:23 gave Arizona State a 10-point lead with a little less than three minutes left. Maryland made its typical frenzied last-minute comeback and closed to within four, but the comeback ended when sophomore center Joe Smith fouled out with 51 seconds left.

"It's probably how UMass felt last year when we beat them," said junior point guard Duane Simpkins, alluding to the three-point barrage that fueled Maryland's comeback in the NCAA tournament. "Those threes they hit were very big."

Arizona State (3-0) made six of 16 three-pointers for the game, but shot 60.4 percent from the field against Maryland (2-1) and 59 percent for the three-game tournament. Bennett, the tournament MVP, was nine of 13 against the Terps, a tournament-record 30 of 37 overall.

"I think this was a good experience for us," said forward Exree Hipp, who led the Terps with 25 points. "Arizona State was just as fast as we are. I think the team that was faster [down the floor] tonight won. But we did some things on defense that I've never seen us do, like when they scored on all those dunks."

Asked what the Terps will take back with them to College Park tomorrow, Hipp said, "This game will make us focus more. You can't take any team lightly."

Although the season's first loss likely will cost Maryland a few spots in next week's poll, it also will give Williams a chance to get his players back to reality -- both geographically and mentally.

"You hear you're ranked seventh and it's hard to figure out what that means," Williams said yesterday. "But you know that teams will be ready to play you. When you have a guy that gets as much publicity as Joe Smith gets you also know that the other guys want to make a name for themselves against him. That's something we haven't had to deal with the past five years. It's a good thing to have, but we have to learn how to deal with it."

There was a feeling that, though disappointed with the loss, Williams wasn't overly upset with a little of the pressure coming off his young team.

"I think everyone is going to get beat this year -- maybe Arkansas is the only one who's not," he said. "There are a lot of good teams out there you don't know about. Who knew how good Arizona State was?"

Bennett did. Like many of his teammates, the junior center has spent most of the past three years saddled with injuries. This marked the first time Bennett and senior guard Marcell Capers have played together. It also marked the first tournament an Arizona State team has won since 1970.

"We came here looking for respect, and now we've found it," said Bennett, who helped foul out Smith and finished with 20 points. "Now the sky's the limit."

Maryland came here with the respect befitting one of the top teams in the country. But the Terps also came here with the kind of pressure to win that they haven't had in more than a decade. Now they can go home to a four-game stretch against low-profile opponents before their next big test, two weeks from tomorrow against third-ranked Massachusetts at the Baltimore Arena.

By then, the hype will likely be back.

NOTE: Smith, who scored 23 points and had eight rebounds despite being a bit hampered by a slightly sprained right ankle, was named to the all-tournament team.

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