Terps match best start Stokes is focal point at both ends for UM, 11-0 and ranked No. 19

December 31, 1996|By ALAN GOLDSTEIN | ALAN GOLDSTEIN,SUN STAFF

HONOLULU -- Before leaving his home in Philadelphia to begin his new role as Maryland's starting point guard, Terrell Stokes told his parents that he expected the Terps to get off to a great start this season.

"They just kind of laughed at me," he recalled. "They told me: 'You guys are too young. You're going to have growing pains for a while.' I realize they were just pushing me, but I knew the team would be a lot better."

This time, the parents should have listened.

After routing host Hawaii, 76-59, Sunday night to join Georgia in last night's Rainbow Classic final, the Terps stretched their unbeaten streak to 11 games and moved up to No. 19 in yesterday's Associated Press poll.

The start matches the best in school history by the talented 1975-76 team led by John Lucas, Brad Davis and Steve Sheppard. And Stokes, a heralded high school point guard who played behind Duane Simpkins last season, is a big reason the streak is alive.

After struggling in the opening round's 66-63 victory over Pitt, when he committed a career-high eight turnovers and was limited to four points, Stokes bounced back against Hawaii Sunday night with 14 points and five assists, turning the ball over only once in 33 minutes.

"That's just Terrell," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "I didn't have to say anything to him after the Pitt game. He knows what he did wrong. He's a great competitor, and I knew he would really take care of the ball."

Said Stokes: "I don't ever dwell on negatives. I'm running the show, and I know I'm going to make some mistakes. I just go out there and work harder the next game."

Stokes did much more than run the offense against Hawaii. In the closing minutes, he joined captain Keith Booth (25 points) in nullifying any chance of a Hawaii rally by converting four free throws when the Rainbows were desperate to stop the clock.

The 6-foot guard also harassed Hawaii's Anthony Carter into shooting 6-for-18 from the field, with most of his 16 points coming after the game was out of reach.

"Stokes had to keep Carter out of the seams," Williams said. "He's really a problem being so athletic and quick and makes some incredible drives. We had Terrell play in front of him and conceded some shots. We gambled Carter wouldn't make them early. He made a three-pointer late, but by then we were in control."

Stokes has become the Terps' unquestioned floor leader. He has shown dramatic improvement since mid-February, when he started three games in place of Simpkins, who was suspended for campus parking violations.

"It's different now that I know I'm in charge out there," he said. "Everybody respects my game."

Win No. 11 was typical of how the Terps have performed. Again, Booth led the way, but he got strong support from Stokes, Laron Profit (10 points, seven rebounds) and a resourceful bench.

Rodney Elliott, the Terps' reliable sixth man, contributed nine points and six rebounds, but Williams also got a timely boost from reserves Matt Kovaric, who had three steals in seven minutes in the second half, and quick-shooting sophomore forward Brian Watkins with six points in 10 minutes.

But most of all, it was the Terps' suffocating defense. Hawaii made 23 of 57 field-goal attempts and forced a number of off-balance shots with the shot clock expiring. And the Rainbows were limited to two fast-break baskets.

"They took away our first and second options all night," said forward Micah Kroeger.

Williams was asked to put the record-matching winning streak in perspective.

"It's one of those things that at the end of the year you look back and say that was a great way to start the season," he said. "But we're young. We're starting three sophomores -- Profit, Stokes and [Obinna] Ekezie. To a man, we can continue to improve.

"We don't want to feel 11 wins is a plateau that we wanted to reach. Nobody goes through a season undefeated anymore. We know that. And there are no easy games left on our schedule.

"At the same time, somebody has to beat us. And that's our attitude right now."

Rainbow Classic

Yesterday

Championship game

Maryland vs. Georgia

Consolation games

3rd: Hawaii vs. Memphis

5th: Pitt 85, Michigan 78

7th: Wash. St. 68, N'western 52

Pub Date: 12/31/96

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