RALEIGH, N.C. -- Crisis? What crisis?
A week ago today, Maryland's basketball team awoke to the horrible aftertaste of the program's worst home loss in 28 seasons and an 0-2 start in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Terrell Stokes was being blamed for everything except the monetary crisis in Indonesia, and Terps fans were fretting about a fifth straight bid to the NCAA tournament.
Coach Gary Williams kept an even keel, however. So did his players, who completed a strong 2-0 week with a 68-65 win over North Carolina State yesterday. A fourth straight win at Reynolds Coliseum began with Stokes starting at the point and ended with Maryland at 9-5 overall, 2-2 in the ACC.
"Part of it's good, that fans are disappointed when you lose," Williams said of the anxiety around Maryland early last week. "But you have to tell your team, you've only played two conference games. The next 14 don't count for anything? Now we wait for Carolina."
That would be No. 1 North Carolina, which comes to Cole Field House on Wednesday night.
As for the Terps, tomorrow could see them back in the Top 25, a neighborhood they exited after a 104-72 loss to Duke eight days ago. That was a defensive debacle, but Maryland's work at that end in the last two games was remarkable, and if the Terps stopped Florida State on tenacity Wednesday, tactics trapped N.C. State (9-5, 1-3).
The win wasn't secured until C. C. Harrison's long three-pointer fell short at the buzzer, but it was earned during a five-minute stretch in the second half, when Williams ignored his preference and went to a 3-2 zone. Ahead 39-36, N.C. State didn't get another basket until Maryland had completed a 15-1 run that put the Terps on top 51-40 with 9: 11 left.
The move was made as much to slow Harrison and the Wolfpack's other shooters as it was to limit N.C. State's second chances, as Maryland did not protect its defensive board in the first half.
"Billy Hahn [assistant coach] said we should go zone," Williams said. "Of course, I said no, being a standard man-to-man coach. Bud Millikan, my old coach, is in Atlanta, and he's probably upset with me, but it was time, because we weren't stopping them."
The key to the zone was a 6-foot-8 wingspan out top. Freshman Terence Morris disrupted the Wolfpack, after not playing in the second half against Florida State because he had been too lackadaisical in the Terps' man defense.
"That didn't bother me," Morris said. "In the zone, my job is to contest shots, defend the passes out top. It gives them a different look."
N.C. State immediately beat the alignment for a short jumper in the lane by forward Tim Wells and that 39-36 lead with 14: 29 left, but over the next seven minutes, the Wolfpack had one basket, on Ron Kelley's putback, a rare second-half rebounding breakdown by the Terps.
"They did a good job in the zone," Wolfpack coach Herb Sendek said of Maryland. "During that time, we weren't scoring and they were having a pretty good spurt against our defense."
Pretty good spurt? How about Maryland's best work in the half-court game all year?
The Terps made 63.6 percent of their field-goal attempts in the second half, 57.8 for the game, matching the season high by an N.C. State opponent. Williams would like to bottle the work his team did en route to a 57-45 lead with 6: 28 left.
"We were playing so well on defense, it transferred down to the other end," junior forward Laron Profit said. "I know that's the best I've shot in a long time. I got into a rhythm, and that's the way I've got to play the rest of the year."
Profit, in a shooting slump lately, and senior guard Sarunas Jasikevicius combined to make 15 of their 26 shots and score 35 points.
Both had some neat solo moves, but during the game's decisive stretch, against the stingiest defensive team in the ACC, the Terps moved and passed like Princeton.
In the climb from down three to ahead 55-45, seven of Maryland's eight baskets were assisted.
Jasikevicius fed Morris for a three-point play and a tie. The Terps went ahead for good at 41-39 on two free throws by Obinna Ekezie, who got position and the ball from Profit.
The magnanimity spread as Maryland continually burned N.C. State's switching man defense: Matt Kovarik and Morris assisted Profit jumpers; Ekezie kicked out to Rodney Elliott; and Elliott got it inside to Profit; Stokes set up Mike Mardesich's 15-footer; and Profit assisted Jasikevicius.
Who got the unassisted basket in that crucial stretch? Stokes, on a jump shot from the right wing that completed the 15-1 run. The junior started instead of Kovarik for the first time since Dec. 8 against George Washington, one of four losses in which the Terps folded down the stretch.
The Terps nearly caved in again, after Mardesich built the lead to 57-45 with 6: 28 left on a soft, left-handed hook.
Harrison cut the spread to 64-59 with four three-pointers, and then the Terps began to miss free throws, six of eight in the last minute. The final two misses came from Elliott with 4.8 seconds remaining, leaving an opening for Harrison to force an overtime.
With 2.6 seconds left, he collected a long inbounds pass and snaked between Profit and Jasikevicius for a decent look. It was just short, and the running, pressing Terps had beaten the patient Wolfpack at their own game.
"Mentally, we had to win a half-court game," Stokes said. "We're going to have games that come down to that again, and it's going to help us down the road."
Pub Date: 1/11/98