Terps pull rank on Tech, avoid another ACC upset

January 05, 1995|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Staff Writer

COLLEGE PARK -- They were well aware of the early returns from the state of North Carolina last night, from the amazing pair of upsets down on Tobacco Road. The Maryland Terrapins also were cognizant of another fact.

They didn't want to be the third highly ranked Atlantic Coast Conference team to lose their league opener. With that in mind, seventh-ranked Maryland took care of business as well as No. 24 Georgia Tech at sold-out Cole Field House.

With all five starters scoring in double figures, and with their defense turning up a notch or two in the second half, the Terps beat the Yellow Jackets, 80-67. The victory helped set up Saturday night's showdown in Chapel Hill with lame-duck No. 1 North Carolina, which was upset in Raleigh by North Carolina State.

Juniors Johnny Rhodes and Exree Hipp led Maryland (11-2, 1-0) with 16 points each, and sophomore All-American Joe Smith finished with 15 points, 13 rebounds and six blocked shots. Sophomore forward Keith Booth had 14 points and junior point guard Duane Simpkins orchestrated things at both ends, with 10 points and 10 assists.

"You're always glad to get the first one," said Hipp, who hit six of eight shots and had five assists. "We played our game, we played tough defense for 40 minutes and we hit the shots when we needed to. There were some rough spots, but all around we played pretty well."

Particularly on defense. The Terps contained Georgia Tech's two senior All-Americans, point guard Travis Best and power forward James Forrest. Best scored 14 in the first half, but had only four in the second half and Forrest, who has often hurt Maryland in the past because of his bulk inside, had 12.

"They did a great job on James and Travis and allowed the freshmen to shoot," said Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins, alluding to the fact that freshman forwards Matt Harpring and Michael Maddox combined for 27 shots, 16 more than Forrest. "They're a tough team."

Said Booth, who held Forrest to five-of-11 shooting, "Once you stop those two guys, it's going to be hard for the other guys to step up."

The victory was only the third in 11 games for Williams over Cremins at Maryland, which defeated the Yellow Jackets in last year's ACC opener in Atlanta.

It helped the Terps (11-2, 1-0 in the ACC) avoid the same fate that had befallen both the Tar Heels and No. 11 Duke, which was upset at home by Clemson.

"It's a great opening home win in regards to the parity in the ACC," said Williams, whose Terps struggled at home at times last year. "It's an amazing parity that's here. It's like the NFL. Hopefully, we'll be able to win our share."

It was an important win for Maryland, which now must go on the road for its next two games and four of its next five.

Williams was concerned about the early-season schedule -- which also includes Florida State next week, with both the

Wolfpack and the Tigers the week after.

"I didn't talk about it a lot [with the players]," said Williams. "But it was very important from a coaching standpoint to get the first one."

After seeing two early seven-point leads become a 30-26 deficit late in the first half, Maryland regained the lead with a 9-0 run and finished the half with a running, off-balance, one-handed three-point heave by Simpkins at the buzzer.

It gave the Terps both a six-point lead, 38-32, and some momentum to take into their locker room. It seemed to carry over in the second half.

"I don't know if it was a lift or not," said Simpkins, "but I'm glad it went in."

There was much less doubt on many of Maryland's shots early in the second half, considering that a majority came off steals that led to breakaway dunks or strong moves to the basket inside.

The Terps built their lead twice to 17, the second time at 57-40 on a drive by reserve forward Mario Lucas with 14:48 to go. Georgia Tech (8-4, 0-1) never got closer than eight, and Maryland sealed the victory by hitting nine of its last 10 free throws.

"I think this is real important for us," said Smith, whose off-night shooting (five of 14) against constant double-teams was offset by his terrific post defense. "It's going to give us a lot of confidence going into Carolina."

It's also going to quiet some of the whispers that had started to be heard about Maryland's lofty ranking, which recently had come from beating smaller schools at home. Though the Yellow Jackets are having their problems, having lost three of four against nationally ranked teams, they were certainly a good test to measure where the Terps are now.

"There's a lot of those teams in the Top 25 that haven't beaten other Top 25 teams, so we're not the Lone Ranger," said Williams.

"In a lot of areas of the country, they'd be raising flags for being ranked No. 7 in the country, not raising doubts. We've come back from about 307 to No. 7. This is the next step."

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