It's simple: Terps forgot who they are

March 09, 1997|By Ken Rosenthal

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- One win over Clemson and they thought they were Supermen. One resounding victory after a month of futility and the Maryland Terrapins thought they were world beaters again.

It was a foolish, immature, arrogant approach, and the Terps got what they deserved yesterday in their 65-58 loss to North Cinderella State in the ACC tournament semifinals.

Know what their problem was? They forgot where they came from, forgot they aren't that good, forgot they were predicted to finish eighth in the conference.

Know what the outcome might be?

A first-round NCAA embarrassment.

These aren't merely the rantings of a columnist who warned Maryland not to lose this game. These were the conclusions of coach Gary Williams and some of his players after blowing a seven-point, second-half lead to N.C. State.

"Some of the guys on this team have to grow up, especially the young guys," sophomore center Obinna Ekezie said. "We have to step up to the challenge. We can't just relax. We have to work hard. We can't come in without emotion and think we can beat N.C. State.

"They're a very emotional team. They feed off their emotion. We have to grow up so we can make a good run in the NCAA tournament. We're a good team. But we have to play up to our level every time -- emotionally, mentally and physically."

Informed of Ekezie's comments, Williams nodded his approval, grateful that at least one player understood the root of the problem, the source of yesterday's defeat.

"I think Obinna's right," Williams said. "There comes a time when you commit to the season. You don't look at the names on their uniforms. You just play a certain way. You don't say, 'This is Clemson, this is N.C. State.' We've got to learn that."

They're got to learn it quickly, or all they've accomplished might go to waste. Hate to say it about such a likable bunch, but the Terps were spoiled by their early success -- almost like last season's underachieving team.

Their NCAA seed probably won't be affected by yesterday's second-half collapse -- they figured to be a No. 4 regardless after beating Clemson. Still, they had plenty of incentive to win this game.

They could have:

L Made the ACC tournament final for the first time since 1984.

Become only the third Maryland champion in the tournament's 44-year history.

Risen to a No. 3 seed and drawn a more favorable first-round NCAA matchup.

Coulda, shoulda, woulda.

The Terps blew it.

"This hurts," sophomore forward Laron Profit said. "Obviously, we felt when Duke lost, maybe this was our big break, this was our opportunity, this was our time to take advantage.

"N.C. State came out with a lot on the table, a lot of intensity, a lot of enthusiasm. They used it to their advantage. They used their motivation better than we used ours."

The Wolfpack had nothing to lose -- it can make the NCAAs only by defeating North Carolina today and claiming the ACC's automatic berth. Ekezie put it best: "They're so desperate, so feisty, so fast."

But are they this good?

Of course not.

The Terps committed 21 turnovers yesterday -- 21 turnovers against a drop-back, no-pressure defense. They missed six free throws in the second half. And they allowed the Wolfpack to score on 19 of its final 27 possessions.

N.C. State, playing its third game in 48 hours, figured to wear down against the Maryland press. Williams couldn't explain why it didn't happen, other than to say: "State can make you look bad with their ball-handling ability."

He was being nice.

So often, defense is a matter of effort.

N.C. State wanted a half-court game, and N.C. State got it. One of these years, the Terps will figure out how to win at a slower tempo. Of course, it's impossible when your starting guards go a combined 1-for-10 with nine turnovers.

N.C. State coach Herb Sendek pulled a clever move to prevent Maryland from getting into transition, dropping back every player but the shooter on free-throw attempts. The pace was so deliberate, the turnovers so frequent, the Terps finished with only 44 shots, matching their season-low.

The Wolfpack, meanwhile, scored 45 points in the second half -- an astonishing total, considering they managed only 20 in the first. Williams tried a smaller lineup, benching the 6-foot-10 Ekezie for most of the final 10 minutes. But like so much else on this day, the move backfired.

The Terps needed Ekezie to create matchup problems for the N.C. State defense -- the tallest Wolfpack starter is 6-6. Ekezie wasn't as dominant as he was against Clemson, but he still finished with 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting and seven rebounds.

"Until they got into some foul trouble and brought in [Luke] Buffum, we were having trouble getting matched up," Williams said. "I wanted to go smaller. We've done that this year several times. It wasn't like he [Ekezie] was dominating the boards when he was in there."

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