Terps score last 6, beat Heels, 84-78 Stokes' free throws, Rhodes' 9th steal key after 17-point lead lost

UM within 1 1/2 of ACC lead

Chapel Hill drought had stretched 6 years

February 07, 1996|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Look who's charging in the fast lane now.

In its boldest statement of the basketball season, resurgent Maryland squandered a 17-point lead, then came back to beat No. 12 North Carolina, 84-78, last night before a sellout crowd of 21,571 at the Smith Center.

It took three clutch free throws by freshman Terrell Stokes and a critical steal by senior Johnny Rhodes to get Maryland's first victory at the Dean Dome in six years.

Written off after an 0-3 start in the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Terps (12-7, 5-4) moved within 1 1/2 games of league leader Wake Forest (6-2) and Carolina (7-3). They have won three in a row and six of seven.

"It feels really good," Maryland coach Gary Williams said, "because we took a lot of heat when we got off to a slow start. But that heat was over [losses to] Kentucky, Massachusetts and UCLA.

"That hurt us as a team, and we lost some confidence because of it."

Whatever the Terps lost in November and December, they've recouped in January and February, playing like the team that was picked to win the conference.

Last night, the Terps had the maturity to withstand a furious last-ditch run by Carolina, the team that loves to play from behind. The Tar Heels (16-6 overall) overcame deficits of 17 and 18 points to win their last two home games against Wake Forest and Duke.

Trailing 73-56 with six minutes left, the Tar Heels went on a 22-5 run to wipe out another 17-point deficit and forge a tie at 78.

"They're the best team in the country coming from behind," said Williams, who said he never saw any panic in the Maryland huddle.

"You look at our guys and if they're really nervous, they don't say anything," Williams said. "But they were upset. They've got a lot of pride. The seniors did a great job of understanding this was our game to win."

The Terps won again with a multitude of heroes. There was Exree Hipp, who had complained four days ago about not getting enough playing time. He scored 10 straight Maryland points to trigger an early second-half run, and on defense harassed Dante Calabria into a six-point game.

"It's getting better," Hipp said of his 28-minute stint, his longest in 15 games. "But we're just trying to focus on winning now."

There was Duane Simpkins, who scored 18 points, hitting six of nine shots. There was Keith Booth, who had 12 points and nine rebounds, and Mario Lucas (10 points).

But in the end, there were Stokes and Rhodes who stifled the Carolina run and assured Maryland's seniors of their first win at the Smith Center after three losses.

Carolina's Antawn Jamison tied the game at 78 on two free throws with 33.6 seconds left, capping a 10-0 Tar Heels run.

Then Carolina elected to foul Stokes, a 56 percent foul shooter, with 20.4 seconds left.

"We fouled Stokes because of his free-throw percentage," said Carolina coach Dean Smith. "If he made them, which he did, we were going to spread the court, come down and either take a three-pointer or try to get a drive to the basket."

Stokes, who had made a turnover late in North Carolina's rally, calmly sank both for an 80-78 lead. He said afterward: "There was no pressure on me. I've been in that situation before. They tried to bother me, but I didn't let them, not with the game on the line."

Next up was Rhodes with what amounted to the game-saving defensive play. He flicked the ball away from Carolina's Shammond Williams (career-high 17 points), and Williams kicked it out of bounds for a big turnover.

"He tried to set up a crossover dribble and wasn't able to get it all the way across," Rhodes said. "When I saw him line it up, I stuck my hand out and tipped it. He was on fire at that point."

Incredibly, it was Rhodes' ninth steal of the night, tying his team record first set on Dec. 23, 1995 against American University. The nine steals boosted Rhodes to 10th place on the NCAA's all-time steals list with 312, and left him 16 behind ACC record-holder Chris Corchiani of North Carolina State.

Stokes hit one of two free throws with 11.1 seconds left, Booth hit one at :09, and Simpkins converted the final two with :02.

Until its late run, Carolina struggled as Maryland rotated from man-to-man to its presses to a triangle-and-two. Jamison, who had 31 points in Carolina's overtime victory at Cole Field House last month, was held to 13 this time around.

The Terps didn't forget.

"I was telling [Carolina's] Jeff McInnis that their win up in Maryland felt too bad," Simpkins said, "and that we weren't going to let it happen again."

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