Getting visions of ACC grandeur

January 05, 1995|By KEN ROSENTHAL

COLLEGE PARK -- The last time Maryland won at North Carolina, Joe Smith and Keith Booth were in ninth grade. Gary Williams was in his first season as Maryland's coach. Tony Massenburg was a senior. Walt Williams was a sophomore.

The year was 1990 -- a lifetime ago for this resurgent program, and for the ACC. Both Carolina and Duke lost their conference openers last night. How often does that happen? When the moon is in the seventh house, and Jupiter aligns with Mars.

Oh yes, by the way, in case you missed it, Maryland beat Georgia Tech, 80-67. Seems everyone had forgotten by the time Williams began his post-game news conference. Half the questions were about the next game, about Saturday night, about Carolina.

Now who's the team to beat in the ACC?

Would you believe Maryland?

Of course we're getting carried away, but enjoy it while it lasts. Maryland has won in Chapel Hill only twice since 1979. Carolina leads the all-time series, 97-41.

"My sophomore year, in 1965-66, we won both games -- and they had Billy Cunningham and Bobby Lewis," Williams recalled of his own Maryland days, chuckling.

Actually, it was Williams' freshman year -- '64-65 -- but who's counting? Maryland has swept Carolina only twice since then, but it could happen this season. Anything can happen -- both good and bad -- with this team.

Last night, the Terps played a nervous, erratic first half, then an inspired, spectacular second half. Tech had beaten them three straight years at Cole. Tech had lost only Ivano Newbill and Fred Vinson. But this wasn't even close.

Remember all the talk about Maryland's poor outside shooting after the loss to UMass? Last night, the Terps shot 52 percent in the second half. The Yellow Jackets cut the lead to eight with 3:42 left, but there was no way they could catch up.

Once Maryland gets in the open court, it's curtains. Tech is the No. 24 team in the country, a team with James Forrest, Travis Best and Drew Barry. But in the second half, Maryland blew past the Yellow Jackets as if they were Morgan State.

Johnny Rhodes shot 7-for-10, Exree Hipp 6-for-8, Booth 5-for-9. Last year, the Terps shot an inconsistent 45 percent. But entering last night's game, they actually were leading the ACC in field-goal percentage, at 54.3 percent.

"Maryland has come a long way from last year," Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins said. "They've really matured. Rhodes' shooting, Booth's inside game and Joe [Smith's] overall game were great."

Afterward, few remembered that Smith barely touched the ball in the first half, that the Terps got so carried away at the perimeter, they took only two free throws against a team whose tallest players are only 6 feet 9.

Smith exceeded his first-half point total (six) in the first four minutes of the second half. Maryland took off on a 17-6 run, opened a 17-point lead, then spent the rest of the game deciding what its margin of victory would be.

Cremins didn't mention Duane Simpkins afterward, but he should have. After a slow start, Simpkins hit two three-pointers late in the first half, including a 30-foot heave at the buzzer that gave Maryland its six-point halftime lead.

Simpkins joked that he had a horseshoe in his back pocket, then spent the second half inside Best's back pocket, holding him without a shot for nearly nine minutes, limiting him to only four points after Best scored 14 in the first half.

All five Maryland starters finished in double figures -- Smith had 15 points, 14 rebounds and six blocked shots. Billy Packer quickly jumped on the bandwagon during the Virginia-Florida State broadcast, calling Maryland the best team in the ACC.

Easy for Packer to say on a night Carolina lost at N.C. State and Duke lost at home to Clemson. Naturally, Williams offered a different interpretation. He knows Carolina is down to six healthy scholarship players. To Williams, parity means that on any given night, anyone can beat his team.

Still, the sellout crowd of 14,500 erupted when the public-address announcer at Cole related the Carolina score during a timeout early in the second half. The players didn't learn the Duke score until after the game was over.

"After the game, Coach Williams came in and related the news to the whole team," Smith said. "He told us it was a great win for us. But he told how tough it's going to be in the ACC."

As Williams put it, "Where do you go when it's going to be easy? The next 15 plus Cincinnati are all tough. Where are you going to go play an easy game? Not at Clemson. Not Clemson here. They just beat Duke at home."

Poor Williams.

Things couldn't be worse.

Maryland is 1-0, Carolina and Duke 0-1.

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