Going small lifts Terps to big Tech win 4 guards and Booth surge as fouls bench UM big men, 76-68

'Kovarik won the game'

Win follows worst loss

UM tied for 2nd in ACC

February 20, 1997|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- Gary Williams used the kind of lineup he was often forced to play at American University 15 years ago. Keith Booth displayed the quickness and strength that he hadn't shown in weeks. And the rest of the Maryland Terrapins played as they did earlier in the season.

It wasn't always smooth last night against Georgia Tech at Alexander Memorial Coliseum, but a small lineup and a big game from Booth helped the 14th-ranked Terrapins to one of their most important victories of the season. Considering they were coming off their worst loss of the year, it may have been their most important.

Booth finished with 26 points -- the most he's scored in an Atlantic Coast Conference game this season -- but more significantly, the senior forward held this emotionally fragile team together down the stretch. The result was a 76-68 victory and gave Williams his second 20-win season in eight years at Maryland.

The win helped move the Terrapins back into a tie for second place in the ACC. Maryland (20-6, 9-4) still needs some help to overtake Duke, but now will go back home for Saturday's game against North Carolina with its confidence revived.

"This was a must win," said Booth, who made eight of 13 shots from the field and 10 of 13 free throws, to go along with six rebounds and five steals. "It was important for me to get the team back together, like we were playing before. But I didn't win the game. Matt Kovarik won the game for us."

Kovarik, a 6-foot-4 junior guard who has played well off the bench this year, had his best game as a Terrapin. He finished with modest numbers -- five points, five rebounds, two assists and a steal in 17 minutes -- but the contribution he made was immeasurable.

With sophomore center Obinna Ekezie on the bench with four personal fouls, and junior forward Rodney Elliott leaving the game after fouling out with a little under 10 minutes left, Williams initially thought about sending in Brian Watkins, a 6-9 sophomore.

"I had Brian Watkins up, but I really had flashbacks to American University when I had four guards and a center about Keith Booth's size," said Williams. "The thing I found out is that the other team really struggled to cover you at the other end."

Georgia Tech (9-14, 3-10) couldn't. After seeing one opportunity to blow open the game erased during a 10-point run by the Yellow Jackets -- it started with an ill-advised behind-the-back pass by Maryland guard Sarunas Jasikevicius with his team up eight -- the Terrapins didn't let another chance slip away.

Leading 55-52 when Elliott fouled out, Booth started and Kovarik finished a 13-6 run that stretched the lead to 68-58. After junior forward Matt Harpring scored inside for the Yellow Jackets, Kovarik found Ekezie in the lane. A three-point shot by Harpring cut Maryland's lead to seven with 2: 45 to play, but the Yellow Jackets could get no closer.

"Maryland knows how to win and we haven't figured it out," said Harpring, who after dominating the Terps during his first two years struggled for the second straight time this year, finishing with 19 points on 5-for-16 shooting, including one of nine on threes. (Georgia Tech was 9-for-33 overall on threes.)

Maryland finished with 20 assists, the most it has had in an ACC game this season and one more than it had in a 14-point win over the Yellow Jackets back in December. Sophomore guard Terrell Stokes had five assists and thought he should have had some more. Jasikevicius and Laron Profit finished with 12 points and four assists apiece.

"We made the passes to the open man," said Stokes. "We rebounded well [44-34] and we got out and ran. We showed that when we play together, we can play well."

But even the four-guard lineup surprised Stokes.

"When Rodney went out, I thought Brian Watkins was coming in," he said. "I saw Kovarik come in and I said, 'We got four guys and we're all 6-5 and under.' But we had good chemistry out there."

They also had the Booth of a month ago, not the player who was struggling recently to get his shots off. With Georgia Tech center Eddie Elisma fouling out shortly after Elliott departed, Booth took over the inside and ultimately the game.

"I saw it in his eyes," said Williams. "He wasn't going to let us lose this game."

The victory certainly helps Maryland's still long-shot chance of winning the ACC regular-season title. With North Carolina's victory over fourth-ranked Wake Forest last night, the Terrapins are now in a tie for second with the slumping Demon Deacons, 1 1/2 games behind Duke.

"We've really been struggling and we really needed this," said Kovarik, alluding to a stretch of four defeats in the team's last six games, including Saturday's embarrassing 17-point defeat to Massachusetts. "We still have a chance to win the ACC championship. This was a big game for us."

It revived memories of another big game in Williams' 19-year Division I coaching career. "It reminded me of the time at AU when we beat South Alabama to win their tournament," he said.

A smile spread across Williams' face.

That, too, was a flashback, something the Maryland coach hadn't done in a while.

Pub Date: 2/20/97

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