Curtain falls with thud on Terps, 81-74 Down 10, Virginia rises to deal UM its 7th loss in last 10 in ACC finale

Late 15-1 Cavs' run is key

Williams: 'Confidence will be fine' by Friday

March 03, 1997|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- The expressions on the faces of the Maryland Terrapins were nearly the same yesterday as they've been for most of the past month. So was the result.

The only difference was how the Terrapins lost another Atlantic Coast Conference game -- and who they lost to. They didn't get blown out. They didn't go down to the wire. They didn't lose to another ranked team.

Instead, 16th-ranked Maryland closed out its regular season by blowing a 10-point lead in the second half and losing to Virginia, 81-74, here at University Hall.

It was the seventh defeat in the last 10 games for the Terrapins, who finished tied with Clemson for fourth in the ACC. Maryland (20-9, 9-7) will play the 12th-ranked Tigers in the opening quarterfinal game of the ACC tournament Friday at noon in Greensboro, N.C.

"I'm really proud to get 20 wins and go 9-7 in the league," said Maryland coach Gary Williams. "Right now it's hard to step back from this game. But this is a year I'll always remember. There hasn't been an easy game for 16 games."

The victory for Virginia (18-11, 7-9) was only its second in the team's last seven ACC games, but it might have helped secure a spot in the NCAA tournament.

"To say there wasn't any pressure would be an outright lie," said Virginia coach Jeff Jones, whose Cavaliers face eighth-ranked North Carolina in the last opening-round game of the ACC tournament Friday night. "It was an emotional game because of the NCAA and how badly the team wanted to get back there, and because of the seniors. We've had some chances to play well in a big game and we didn't. Today we did."

Maryland did -- for about 30 minutes. But then the Terrapins watched leads of 50-40 with 14: 50 remaining and 60-54 with 9: 31 to go obliterated in a 15-1 run by the Cavaliers. It turned into a three-point shooting contest and Virginia's perimeter-oriented offense, along with its zone defense, won out.

Senior guard Harold Deane led the Cavaliers with 18 points, but it was the second-half shooting of Curtis Staples (13 points) and Courtney Alexander (16) to go along with the strong inside play of Norman Nolan (13) and Colin Ducharme (15) that wore down the Terrapins.

"The key was I didn't lose my focus when things weren't going my way in the first half," said Staples, a junior guard who hit three of the four threes he took in the second half after relinquishing his starting spot to little-used senior Martin Walton on Senior Day. "When we went down 10, my teammates knew I could get us back quicker with some threes."

The Terps, who took their big lead by playing aggressively on defense and passing crisply, had problems against Virginia's zone. The passivity on offense then transferred to Maryland's defense, which seemed to get caught on switching too late against the Cavaliers.

After dominating at times when the Terrapins jumped ahead, sophomore guard Laron Profit disappeared down the stretch, going without a basket and scoring only three of his game-high 24 points in the last nine minutes. After hitting three of his first six three-point attempts, junior guard Sarunas Jasikevicius went cold, missing four straight threes and his last five shots overall.

"The guys shooting the ball were good shooters," said Williams, whose team hit only 12 of 34 shots it took in the second half, scored just a point in eight possessions during Virginia's decisive run and never got within five points after the Cavaliers took a 69-61 lead. "We want Sarunas to shoot the ball. He did a great job against Virginia the first game and he's done that for us all year."

Said Jasikevicius, who finished with 15 points after scoring 24 on seven-of-11 shooting against the Cavaliers back in January: "I was very confident shooting the ball. I missed a couple of shots that I thought were going in. It just happens. I just hit a bad stretch."

Sort of like Maryland. The two most recent defeats in a three-game losing streak could push the Terrapins out of the Top 20 for the first time since they were ranked 21st back in late December. More significantly, it could continue to wear on Maryland's collective psyche going into the ACC tournament.

While a team that was picked to finish eighth in the ACC wound up in the same place as a team that was picked to finish first last year -- with one more victory to boot -- its recent free fall is disconcerting. But Williams and his players don't look at yesterday's defeat any differently than they did after recent losses to North Carolina and seventh-ranked Duke.

"I think our confidence will be fine by the time we play on Friday," said Williams, whose Terrapins will be facing the only ACC team it hasn't beaten this year. "We have to dwell on the positive things instead of the negative things."

Said Profit: "I think the postseason is a whole new season for us. I think that's the way we're going to look at it."

It might be the only way Maryland can look at it.

NOTES: Profit tied his career high, set earlier this year against California. Keith Booth finished with 17 points, 12 rebounds and five assists for Maryland. Nolan, a Dunbar alum, had seven rebounds for the Cavaliers before fouling out. Ducharme's 15 points were a career high and the 81 points for Virginia were the most it has scored in an ACC game this season. Its previous high was 75 in a victory over North Carolina in January.

ACC tourney

At Greensboro, N.C.

Thursday's play-in game 7: 30 p.m.: 8. N.C. State vs. 9. Georgia Tech

Friday's quarterfinals Noon: 4. Clemson vs. 5. Maryland

2: 30 p.m: 1. Duke vs. Thursday winner

7 p.m.: 2. Wake Forest vs. 7. Florida State

9: 30 p.m.: 3. North Carolina vs. 6. Virginia

Saturday's semifinals 1: 30 p.m.: 1-8-9 winner vs.

4-5 winner

4 p.m.: 2-7 vs. 3-6

Sunday's final 1 p.m.

Pub Date: 3/03/97

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