Even perfect finish might not save Terps

February 29, 1996|By JOHN EISENBERG

COLLEGE PARK -- No room for mistakes now.

No room to complain, either.

After losing to Duke last night at Cole Field House on Ricky Price's buzzer-beater, the Maryland Terrapins won't qualify for the NCAA tournament unless they win their last two regular-season games.

In fact, they still might not make it to the tournament even if they beat Virginia on Saturday and Florida State on Monday night.

Price's shot was a devastating blow to the Terps' postseason chances.

It also left the Terps with no right to complain if their name doesn't get called on Selection Sunday.

They don't really deserve to go.

Even though they have played a tough schedule, they have experienced one too many disappointments to expect to receive an NCAA bid with 12 defeats, which is how many they'll have unless they win the ACC tournament, an unlikely development given their inconsistency.

They should have qualified for the NCAAs in a sleepwalk, but they threw in clunkers at UCLA, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, Florida State, Duke and Clemson.

That's a lot of clunkers.

They also couldn't beat North Carolina, Wake Forest or Duke at home.

No right to complain.

A win last night would have made their lives easier. An NCAA bid would have then been all but assured with wins against Virginia and Florida State.

They should have won.

Playing at home, and playing well on offense, they scored the game's first nine points, led by nine with 13 minutes left and led by six with six minutes left.

Duke played from behind for virtually all of the game's last 17 minutes.

"I really thought they had control of the game in the second half," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said.

They did. Yet the Terps still couldn't put the Blue Devils away.

Pedigree? You bet.

The Blue Devils' talent level is way down from the years when they routinely reached the Final Four, but they're still as smart as any team.

Last night, they attacked the Terps where the Terps are the most vulnerable this season.

On defense.

Gary Williams' teams have always prided themselves on their high-pressure, high-sweat defense, but this year's team is a sieve without Joe Smith in the middle.

The Terps are dead last in the ACC in defense. No team has allowed more points or allowed opponents to shoot a higher percentage.

Last night, the Terps were on their game offensively, but they couldn't stop Duke guard Chris Collins. His 27 points were the difference.

Time and again down the stretch, the Terps were within a basket or two of putting the Blue Devils away. But Collins continually beat his defenders on the perimeter, penetrated the lane and scored.

Joe Smith would have blocked his shots, intimidated him, forced him to pass.

Mario Lucas and Obinna Ekezie just watched him shoot and score.

"He did a great job," Williams said. "We were reluctant to help on the wing because of Price and Jeff Capel's shooting ability."

At one point, Collins scored 10 of 12 points for Duke when Maryland was close to blowing the game open.

"Collins and Capel led us, like they have all season," Krzyzewski said. "It was very critical for us to keep the game [close] at one possession and not get down five or six points."

Collins finally took a bad shot, a forced jumper from the corner with 10 seconds left and the score tied. It appeared to give the Terps the edge. Maryland's Keith Booth was fouled rebounding the ball. He made the first free throw, but missed the second, and Duke got the ball back, now down one.

The Blue Devils brought the ball up court without calling a timeout. Duane Simpkins knocked the ball out of Collins' hands. Booth grabbed it going out of bounds, turned and called a timeout. The officials ruled that Booth had stepped on the line before calling timeout. The Blue Devils had one more chance.

"I saw him call timeout, but it was a bang-bang play," Williams said.

On the final play, Duke guard Steve Wojciechowski was pressured out front but still found Price open in the corner coming off a screen. Price let fly just before the buzzer sounded.

"A heck of a shot," Williams said. "We played a great basketball game tonight. I thought we really had it together.

"Our work is cut out for us, but at the same time we're not going to quit."

Already lobbying, Williams said he thought the Terps deserved an NCAA bid if they win their last two regular-season games. That would give them a 16-11 record against one of the nation's toughest schedules.

Yet last night's loss, coupled with Clemson's victory at North Carolina State, means the Terps are in sixth place in the ACC standings. The NCAA selectors probably will only take five teams from the conference.

No room for mistakes now.

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