Charleston gives Terps seat, 75-66 Season of promise ends in 4-9 tailspin, loss to 12th seed

Cougars win 23rd in row

Benched early, Profit, Stokes lead in minutes

March 14, 1997|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- A season that began with such promise ended with another early exit from the NCAA tournament for Maryland last night. In the end, the College of Charleston was for real and the Terrapins were not. In Elvis' adopted hometown, Maryland had left the building.

In this case, it was The Pyramid after last night's 75-66 loss to the 16th-ranked but 12th-seeded Cougars in the opening round of the Southeast Regional. After two straight Sweet 16 appearances, it was the second straight time Maryland (21-11) didn't make it to the second round.

The victory, the first ever by the Cougars in the NCAA tournament, stretched the nation's longest Division I winning streak to 23 games and pushed the College of Charleston (29-2) into the second round against fourth seed Arizona, which defeated 13th seed South Alabama, 65-57.

The defeat was the ninth in the last 13 games for a Maryland team that had won 17 of its first 19 games and reached No. 5 in the nation. But as had often happened down the stretch of the regular season, the Terrapins, seeded fifth and ranked 22nd, lost their defensive intensity in the second half and watched another opponent blow by them.

"It's the worst feeling as a coach. There's no way to describe it," said Maryland coach Gary Williams. "I didn't think it would end tonight. I didn't want it to end. It's going to hurt for a couple of weeks. But at the same time, I know we lost to a very good basketball team."

The victory for the College of Charleston (29-2) stretched the nation's longest Division I winning streak to 23 straight games. It gave the Cougars, making their second appearance in an NCAA tournament game, their first ever victory.

A team that starts four five-year seniors got balanced scoring. Senior forward Stacy Harris led the Cougars with 22 points on seven-of-11 shooting. Senior guard Anthony Johnson finished with 17 points, nine assists and four rebounds. Senior center Thaddeous Delaney added 12 points and eight rebounds.

"The dream season continues," said College of Charleston coach John Kresse. "Once again, we met the challenge and rose to the occasion. We're not Rodney Dangerfields. We're for real."

The defeat proved to be the last game of Keith Booth's career as a Terrapin. Booth scored a team-high 18 points, but a string of four second-half fouls limited the effectiveness of the former Dunbar star. Sophomore guard Laron Profit, who was born in Charleston, lived there for six years and still spends a great deal of time there over the summer, scored 16 points but was held scoreless in the second half until 30 seconds remained.

"It was a combination of their defense and me not being aggressive enough," said Profit, who took only one shot in the first seven minutes of the second half after hitting his last five shots in the first half. "I was trying to get everyone involved. In hindsight, maybe I should have looked for my shot."

The early-game benching of Profit and fellow sophomore Terrell Stokes (seven points, five assists) seemed to have a negligible effect, since the Terrapins appeared just as out of sync in losing a three-point lead early in the second half as they did in falling behind by nine points early in the game.

Asked whether the benching, for less than six minutes to start the game, affected the team, junior guard Matt Kovarik said, "I don't think so, because we all ended up playing the same amount of minutes."

Profit led the team with 34 minutes, and Stokes was second with 33.

Said Williams, "We're used to playing with Matt and Rodney [Elliott, who started for Profit], so that wasn't a problem. The problem was that we lost our intensity on defense in the second half and they took advantage of it."

Kovarik was blunt in assessing another bad second-half performance, something that hindered the Terrapins throughout the second half of the season. In this case, a spurt of 10 straight points helped the Cougars take over the lead and the game.

"Basically, we fell apart," said Kovarik, who had started in place of Stokes.

Even when the Terrapins had overcome their early first-half deficit to tie the score at 33 on Profit's 23-footer right at the halftime buzzer, Williams knew things were not right with his team. They had scored only one point in the half from the free-throw line and 18 on threes, including four threes by Profit.

"That's not the way we play," Williams said. "We want to get the ball inside, but we couldn't do that."

Said sophomore center Obinna Ekezie, "They triple-teamed us every time we got the ball inside."

After falling behind twice by 11, the Terrapins got within eight three times, the last time at 64-56, with 2: 17 to go. But the play that basically ended what little hope Maryland had came when Shane McCravy hit a three-point shot and was fouled by Profit, hitting the free throw to complete the four-point play. It was all over but the pouting for the Terrapins.

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