Terps' tricky defense is a risk against Tech Visiting Jackets boast many scoring options

February 03, 1996|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- Gary Williams tried juggling the lineup and he tried different rotations. He tried team meetings and he tried emotional one-on-one sit-downs.

But it wasn't until the Maryland coach pressed a couple of unusual buttons -- for him, anyway -- that the Terps turned a critical corner Thursday night with their first Atlantic Coast Conference road victory of the season.

The triangle-and-two defense, to a greater degree, and a moratorium on pregame player interviews, to a lesser degree, proved instrumental in posting an 80-72 victory over Virginia in Charlottesville, Va.

The gimmick defense could surface again today when the Terps 3-4) face Georgia Tech (13-9, 6-2) at Cole Field House, but the moratorium should disappear by next week, Williams said yesterday.

"You think about that [triangle-and-two] against Georgia Tech and that's the problem," said Williams, a staunch advocate of full-court pressure and man-to-man defense. "What two do you put it on? Right away, you say [Drew] Barry and [Stephon] Marbury, but they've got [Matt] Harpring and he's an assassin, no doubt about it.

"If you want to play a trick defense against Georgia Tech, it's tougher because of their numbers."

The triangle-and-two -- Williams called it "America's defense" after the Virginia game -- almost certainly will make an appearance at Cole. If Maryland doesn't use it, the Yellow Jackets figure to. They used it against Terp guards Johnny Rhodes and Duane Simpkins in a 98-84 win in Atlanta last month.

But these Terps have a different dimension than those Terps. Since that Jan. 3 loss, 6-foot-9 freshman center Obinna Ekezie has moved into the low post and 6-5 power forward Keith Booth has moved into the ACC spotlight.

Booth's dominating 27-point, 16-rebound performance against Virginia powered a second-half surge that turned the game. In one incredible seven-minute stretch, Booth hit five straight jumpers, a layup and three free throws for 16 points. When the onslaught ended, Virginia was in tatters, not to mention shock.

"I was surprised," Virginia captain Chris Alexander said of Booth's heroics. "He was like 0-for-100, and all of a sudden, he hits five in a row. That was the turning point."

If Booth can combine a perimeter touch with his power game, ACC teams will have to do some re-thinking.

"The book on Keith is if he catches the ball in the perimeter, let him shoot the jump shot, don't let him get to the basket," Williams said.

Aside from his big numbers, Booth also contributed a key intangible quality to the Terps -- his emotional intensity.

"Everybody asks, 'What's the biggest difference in Keith Booth this year?' " Williams said. "It's him allowing his emotion for the game to come out to the younger players. Our seniors -- and this isn't a knock -- don't have a very outgoing look on the floor. Johnny [Rhodes] gets by with his effort. . . . The other guys are kind of laid-back.

"You don't necessarily need that emotional leadership from your seniors. You need leadership from the seniors. [But] if they do what they're supposed to do and Keith gives us that emotion, that's good."

Williams believed the Terps had been bombarded with negatives after struggling early in the ACC season. That's why he decided to shield the players from the media this week.

"It was to see if they could focus more on the game," Williams said. "It's nice to have meetings to say things, but you've got to do it on the floor."

NOTES: Williams said he hopes to get a medical redshirt year for sophomore guard Matt Kovarik, who hasn't played since the UCLA game because of a stress fracture of the right tibia. Kovarik has played only 14 minutes in five games. . . . If Maryland beats Tech, it will mark the first time the Terps have beaten the Yellow Jackets three consecutive seasons. . . . Rhodes is tied for 13th on the NCAA's all-time steals list with 301.

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