Ekezie's stepped-up play welcome sight for Terps Center breaks slump with 15 points, 11 rebounds

February 14, 1997|By Roch Eric Kubatko | Roch Eric Kubatko,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- Depending on whom you asked last night, Maryland's Obinna Ekezie was most effective because he either played with his feet or with his head.

The important thing was, Ekezie played.

The sophomore center fouled out in three of the previous four games -- all losses. He had just two points and three rebounds in Saturday's 80-68 defeat at Clemson, and he had something to prove last night against Florida State.

The statistics showed that Ekezie scored 15 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in Maryland's 73-57 win over the Seminoles at Cole Field House, but a couple of other numbers jumped out even farther. He was on the floor for 30 minutes, and he committed only two fouls, both in the second half.

This was more like it. This was what Maryland needed to right itself after a difficult stretch -- the big man giving Maryland a big game.

Maryland coach Gary Williams didn't know that Randell Jackson, Florida State's 6-foot-11 sophomore, wouldn't play because of an injury until right before the game. "We decided that we were going to go inside on them," he said.

And, at times, right at Ekezie, who scored more points last night than his past two games combined.

"It doesn't matter if Jackson's not playing. We're still going to take the ball inside," Williams said.

"I started playing with my feet; I've been working on it all week," said Ekezie. "I just wanted to stay out of foul trouble and make sure I could be aggressive in the second half. It feels good to be out there on the floor."

It was a welcomed sight to his teammates who understand how devastating it can be for a team that usually goes only seven or eight deep to be missing one of its components. Especially, the largest one.

"Obinna's the only true center we have on the team right now," said junior forward Rodney Elliott. "As long as Obinna plays well, Coach keeps the rotation going and everything works.

"He played smart tonight. He didn't get any stupid reach-in fouls or anything like that. He played with his head. He played his game."

"He's our presence inside," said junior guard Matt Kovarik. "He rebounds for us, he scores for us, he does a lot of things for us and we need him on the court, not sitting on the bench.

"He's been focusing all week on trying to play with his feet and not his hands, and I think it helped him. You could see it tonight. He wasn't picking up the stupid fouls that he had been picking up. Instead of pushing guys with his arms off the block, he's moving his feet, trying to get around, trying to not let the guy get the ball."

Last night it was Florida States' sophomore center, Kirk Luchman, who was burdened with foul trouble, playing only nine minutes and finishing with two points.

Last night, it was somebody else's turn to sit and watch.

"I just tried to attack them every time," Ekezie said, "and I knew I was going to get my way most of the time."

Stretch run

:. Maryland's remaining regular-season games:

Date Opponent Time

2/15 at Massachusetts 1: 30 p.m.

2/19 at Georgia Tech 7 p.m.

2/22 North Carolina 4 p.m.

2/27 at Duke 7: 30 p.m.

3/2 at Virginia 1: 30 p.m.

Pub Date: 2/14/97

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