Last shot not best, but it's not over ACC TOURNAMENT

March 12, 1995|By KEN ROSENTHAL

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- They couldn't even agree on what kind of shot Duane Simpkins took, much less who was supposed to get the ball.

Interim coach Billy Hahn said Simpkins was "wide-open" coming off Keith Booth's screen. Center Joe Smith called his three-point attempt "a tough shot."

Was the play even designed for Simpkins?

The Terps couldn't answer unanimously after they regained possession with 15 seconds left in overtime, trailing 95-92.

Smith said he thought Johnny Rhodes was supposed to shoot the three.

So did Rhodes.

"It was kind of a mix-up," Exree Hipp said. "People were screaming for two different plays. Duane took the best shot he could. I was glad he got it off."

"It was sort of like two different plays were called," Rhodes said. "It was just a miscommunication. One team had to lose. It had to be us."

These things happen, even when Gary Williams is coaching.

So it was that Simpkins missed his three with four seconds left, and Maryland fell to North Carolina in the semifinals of the ACC tournament, 97-92.

Don't even ask, Would Gary have won the game? The Terps don't always get off good shots in game-ending sequences when he's on the sidelines.

In fact, Maryland has won only twice at the buzzer in Williams' six-year tenure, both on tip-ins following missed shots, and once with Hahn at the helm.

So, don't get too upset.

Not after a game in which the Terps overcame early foul trouble to three starters, committed only seven turnovers in 45 minutes and rallied from a 13-point first-half deficit to force overtime.

Williams couldn't have done much better. Duke lost a series of close games this season with Pete Gaudet coaching, but the final sequence wasn't Hahn's fault.

Simpkins', maybe, but not Hahn's.

Hahn gave the Terps two options. One was a play for Rhodes if the Tar Heels stayed in a zone defense. The other was for Simpkins to look to the sidelines or call his own play if they did not.

The Tar Heels went man.

"There was no confusion," Simpkins said. "I made the call. I was the point guard."

The Terps had one timeout left, but Hahn didn't want them to use it.

"Carolina makes it tough to get the ball inbounds from a sideline situation," he said. "We already had our play called if they missed, which they did, and we rebounded and had one shot.

"Duane ran the play. To be quite honest, he had a pretty good look. He was wide-open coming off Keith's screen. He had both feet behind the line and had a great look at it."

But Simpkins' shot bounced off the back of the rim.

"It just wouldn't go down, or we'd still be playing," Hahn said. "They executed that beautifully."

Perhaps, but it's certainly fair to question Simpkins' decision-making. He had taken only one shot after halftime, and missed. He was 1-for-5 in the game -- his lone basket was a three -- and 2-for-8 in the tournament.

Rhodes, meanwhile, scored 14 of his 17 points in the second half, making six of 11 shots, including two threes.

"I didn't think they got the best shot they could have gotten," Carolina point guard Jeff McInnis said. "I thought they'd get the ball to Johnny Rhodes because we were flying at Duane."

You know, Mr. Wide-Open.

Rhodes could be seen shaking his head in disgust when Rasheed Wallace went to the foul line with 1.9 seconds left.

Then again, the game never would have reached overtime if Simpkins hadn't stifled McInnis on Carolina's final sequence in regulation, forcing him to miss a 17-foot jumper.

As with any close game, this one turned on a dozen sequences, not just one. Even the usually infallible Smith had to be kicking himself, despite leading Maryland with 24 points and 10 rebounds.

Smith, a 75-percent free-throw shooter, missed a foul shot that would have given Maryland a four-point lead with 1:44 left in regulation, then two more in overtime.

Whatever, at least it was close -- closer than anyone would have imagined.

Maybe the Terps would have been a No. 2 seed if they had beaten Carolina -- then again, maybe not. The big thing is, they played their best game in the month on Selection Sunday Eve, and now Williams is expected back.

Hipp scored 23 points yesterday, his second-highest total of the season, and highest since Nov. 22. Booth again shot poorly -- he's 6-for-28 in his last four games -- but at least he grabbed eight rebounds.

Williams will make a difference. Williams will help. Hahn spoke with him yesterday morning, and said he sounds stronger each day. Williams is expected at practice tomorrow. It will be a welcome sight.

"I can't afford my dry cleaning bill any more," Hahn said.

Seriously, folks . . .

"When you lose someone at such a critical time, especially a coach, it's tough to regroup," Smith said. "Coach Hahn, he's an assistant. It's a lot different having the head coach out there."

Would it have been different yesterday?

"I couldn't possibly tell you," Hipp said. "We got a rebound -- it wasn't a set out-of-bounds play. Duane tried to push the ball up the court.

"He's the point guard. He makes the decisions when the coaches don't. He got a good look, a great shot. We just came up a little short."

This was the ACC, not the NCAAs.

There's still time to get it right.

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