Terps overcome jitters to take ragged victory Stop Court Authority in exhibition, 97-80

November 14, 1995|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- Gary Williams saw it in their feet.

On opening night, the Maryland Terrapins overcame a case of jitters, poor shooting and foul trouble to beat Court Authority, 97-80, in a tepid exhibition game in front of 8,642 at Cole Field House.

"The first half, we were nervous," said Williams, the Terps coach. "It showed in the way we moved our feet on defense. The second half I thought we relaxed a little and played harder.

"We couldn't move the first half . . . and that scared me."

On the court, stage fright took its toll on the newly minted Terps, ranked 15th yesterday in the Associated Press' preseason poll. They hit 13 of 33 shots, committed 14 fouls and had to come from behind four times in the first half.

"It was the first time in a few months in front of a crowd," said point guard Duane Simpkins, one of the few unaffected by the nerve epidemic. "You can be a pro player and have that happen."

This was the new-look Maryland team -- after Joe Smith -- digging in during the second half:

* Johnny Rhodes helped offset foul trouble in the Terps' front line, contributing a team-high 20 points and 12 rebounds. He did not start because of a "personal thing within the team," Williams said. Said Rhodes: "It was a misunderstanding."

* Freshman center Obinna Ekezie, pressed into action early when starter Mario Lucas picked up three quick fouls, showed promise with 13 points and three rebounds in 13 physical minutes.

* Junior forward Keith Booth, one of those afflicted with the jitters, scored 14 of his 15 points in the second half, two on a thunderous dunk off an alley-oop pass from Simpkins when Maryland finally made its move. Booth hit five of 11 shots and took nine rebounds.

* Sophomore Rodney Elliott, making his first career start at Maryland, made his mark inside with 12 points and 10 rebounds in 32 minutes of play.

In a game that featured 55 fouls and 46 turnovers, the Terps committed to getting the ball inside in the second half. That commitment, along with their trapping defense, was what won the game.

"We're mature enough, and smart enough, to understand what changes needed to be made," said Simpkins, who had 16 points and five assists.

Of course, Williams helped them understand what those changes were at halftime.

"We knew we were going to hear a little [at halftime]," Booth said. "We didn't play to our potential in the first half."

Booth started the second half with a layup and moments later fed Simpkins for a reverse layup. When Rhodes put in a follow shot, it was 50-40, and the Terps were never headed -- although Court Authority, from Richmond, Va., got within 60-59 with less than 12 minutes left.

Court Authority's Dan Plondke, who played at Central Arizona Community College, presented a problem inside all night for the Terps. The 6-8 battler had 22 points to lead all scorers.

In the end, Williams decided the lesson was worth learning, even at the cost of a ragged performance.

"It was a lot better than winning 120-60," he said. "We can get a lot more out of it. It's good from a coaching standpoint."

Simpkins knows what that means. Asked what the Terps got out of the game, he said, "We won't know until we watch the tape on Wednesday. And Coach will have a couple pages of notes."

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