Headed out of bounds, Terps make save

January 08, 1998|By John Eisenberg

COLLEGE PARK -- It was a game the Maryland Terrapins had to win, period, and they did.

What they do with the victory becomes the issue now, and the Terps certainly still have a lot to prove.

It's far from assured that they'll make a fifth straight trip to the NCAA tournament.

But give them credit for a save under serious pressure last night at Cole Field House -- a season save, if you will.

A loss to Florida State would have left them at 7-6 for the season and 0-3 in the ACC -- a deep hole.

They were teetering on the edge of the hole when Florida State's lead grew to 12 points early in the second half, but they dominated the last 19 minutes with their defense and came back strong to beat a Seminoles team ranked No. 13 in the Associated Press poll.

If they go on from here to make something out of their season, they will point to this game as the place where things started going right.

The place where they gave themselves a chance, at least, to make something out of their season.

Terps coach Gary Williams disagreed with the suggestion that it was a critical crossroads -- "I've been around too long to look at the third league game as the biggest game of the year," he said -- but he didn't deny that it was an enormous victory after Saturday's disastrous home loss to Duke.

"It's a lot nicer to be 1-2 [in the ACC] instead of 0-3," Williams said. "Practice will be a lot nicer tomorrow than it was on Sunday [after losing to Duke.]"

Not that the Terps can exhale and relax.

They'll need at least 16 wins, and maybe more, to make the NCAA tournament, which means they'll need to go no worse than 8-6 the rest of the season.

That won't be easy in a year in which the best teams in the ACC are among the best teams in the country, and the worst are far from gimmes.

The Terps will have to get more consistent, no doubt about it, or they won't win enough games to make it.

They have gone back and forth between brilliant and terrible so ** far, a pattern of inconsistency best symbolized by a win over Kansas and a loss to George Washington on successive nights in December.

Before last night, they had beaten only six overmatched opponents and Kansas.

It's not hard to see why they're struggling. They're unsettled at point guard, with Terrell Stokes and Matt Kovarik sharing the job. Their depth is young, with freshmen Mike Mardesich and Terence Morris playing increasingly important roles. Their most explosive player, Laron Profit, has disappeared at times.

"We haven't been consistent yet," Williams conceded. "But we feel like we can be pretty good."

Williams was playing the good cop last night, after playing the bad cop in the wake of the Duke loss.

"We never lost confidence after that game," he said. "I guess some people did, but we didn't."

Harrumph.

Let's see the Terps play well in back-to-back big games before we start making any judgments about their overall potential.

But let's also give them credit for coming through in dire circumstances last night.

It takes a pretty strong will to get totally humiliated at home, fall behind by 12 points in front of the same fans four nights later, hear some boos -- yes, there were boos last night -- and come back with as much passion as the Terps came back with last night.

It all started after the Seminoles scored the first two baskets of the second half to take a 45-33 lead. Williams called a 20-second timeout.

"We're too good for that," he told the players.

After play resumed, the Terps scored the next nine points, 17 of the next 21, 26 of the next 32 and 33 of the next 44.

They shot only 40.7 percent from the field in the second half, but their defense shut down the Seminoles, who scored exactly one basket in 12 minutes.

"I've had teams that couldn't play good defense on nights when they weren't shooting well," Williams said. "That's what I'm really proud of tonight. We were intelligent enough to go inside to score when we realized we weren't shooting well [from the outside]. And we maintained our effort on defense when our offense was struggling."

Profit's offense continued to sag -- he missed nine of 12 shots -- but he was big in other ways, with seven rebounds, five steals, three blocks and three assists.

His assist gave the Terps the lead at 50-49; he drove the baseline and passed to Mardesich for a dunk that left the crowd roaring.

After a Florida State free throw tied the score, the Terps scored the next seven points.

"They were just a little bit more aggressive than we were," Florida State coach Steve Robinson said. "Their pressure bothered us a bit."

The pressure saved a season that was going in the wrong direction in a hurry for the Terps.

Whether they start motoring in the right direction now remains to be seen.

But at least they have a chance.

Pub Date: 1/08/98

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