Celebration is worthy of top rank

January 15, 1998|By Ken Rosenthal

COLLEGE PARK -- Cole Field House was a madhouse. Players leaped in ecstasy. Fans stormed the court. Terrell Stokes sprinted over to Dick Vitale and screamed at the ESPN announcer.

"I don't know what he said," Vitale said, trying to reconstruct Stokes' victory speech after Maryland's 89-83 overtime upset of No. 1 North Carolina. "Something like, 'We showed you. We showed you.' "

Not quite, Dick.

"We shocked the world!" Stokes yelled. "We shocked the world!"

They shocked everyone last night, knocking off a No. 1 Carolina team at Cole for the second time in four seasons, a Carolina team that had been 17-0 under Dean Smith's replacement, Bill Guthridge.

The wild, feverish post-game scene reflected one of the most thrilling games ever played at Cole, and one of the greatest triumphs of Williams' nine-year tenure.

"I thought we were going to get killed at that table," Vitale said after escaping safely to the press room, his face dripping with sweat. "They stomped on it."

Stokes wasn't the only player celebrating. Rodney Elliott high-fived every hand within striking distance. The 256-pound Obinna Ekezie tried to embrace Carolina's Antawn Jamison, and nearly got bowled over by the crowd.

The fans?

They mugged shamelessly for the ESPN cameras, hoisted the Terps mascot on their shoulders, climbed on each other's backs and chanted, "Gary! Gary!"

Without question, it was one of the more unlikely victories of Williams' career. Ekezie fouled out with 2: 27 left in regulation. Elliott fouled out with 4: 01 left in overtime. Two of Maryland's biggest heroes were fresh men Terence Morris and Mike Mardesich.

"The key thing was that we were able to rebound with a great rebounding team," Williams said, pointing to Maryland's 39-32 rebounding edge. "It was a team thing, not just one guy."

The Terps won by becoming the first team in 37 games to shoot better than 50 percent against Carolina. And they won by playing a 3-2 zone defense instead of Williams' preferred man-to-man.

Laron Profit rebounded from his disastrous performance against Duke with a team-high 19 points. Elliott and Ekezie each contributed 16, and Mardesich and Morris combined for 22 off the bench.

For one night at least, Carolina failed to show its customary poise, struggling against the Maryland zone, making poor decisions at the end of regulation, scoring only one point in the final 2: 30 of overtime.

"I didn't coach as well as I should have; I hope I learned from my mistakes," Guthridge said. "Basketball is not an undefeated sport. It's impossible to go undefeated in this league."

Jamison, the hero of a Carolina overtime victory at Cole two years ago, led the Tar Heels with 27 points, but missed four free throws in overtime. The Terps rallied from a six-point deficit by holding him to one point in the final 16: 58, including OT.

"They didn't do anything special," Jamison said. "It was totally my fault. We beat ourselves. That's the attitude we've got to have. We can't have mental mistakes. That was a giant step back tonight."

Williams figured Maryland could score on the Tar Heels, who go only six deep, and try not to foul on defense. But just hours before the game, the coach fretted that his team couldn't stop Carolina. "The thing they do really well is pass -- each guy can pass and catch," Williams said. "There are no stiffs out there, 7-footers they're afraid to throw the ball to. Their teamwork is incredible."

For once, Williams actually wanted to slow the game down -- instead of pressing, he again employed the zone that worked so successfully in Maryland's 68-65 victory over North Carolina State.

"Against Carolina, you get so many tough matchups," Williams said. "Who guards [Vince] Carter? Who guards Jamison? It's been a funny year. We haven't been in foul trouble very often. But we could get into foul trouble tonight."

Williams' words were prophetic. The zone, however, was also a gamble -- Carter and Jamison entered the game ranked 1-2 in the ACC in shooting percentage, and Shammond Williams ranked seventh. As a team, Carolina also led the conference, shooting 53.2 percent.

Well, the Tar Heels shot 8-for-13 against Maryland's man-to-man in the first half, 5-for-15 after Williams switched to zone. They then shot 7-for-9 against the man to open the second half, 8-for-23 against the zone the rest of the way.

If Phil Jackson is the Zen master, perhaps Williams is the zone master. At the very least, he proved he could win with a different style, proved he could win without pressing the entire game.

"I met with the coaches several times during the summer, and we decided we had to play more zone," Williams said. "I don't necessarily like to, but that's the way the game is going. There are so many good shooters. And it has really helped us the last two games."

The 6-foot-8 Morris and 7-foot Mardesich are especially effective in the zone, using their long arms to thwart opponents. Last night, they emerged as legitimate offensive threats as well.

Morris scored 10 points in 18 minutes, including an alley-oop dunk that tied the score with 2: 40 left in regulation. Mardesich added 12 points and nine rebounds, including a follow-up of an Elliott air ball that tied the score with 46.2 seconds left.

The two combined to miss four of five throws in overtime, but Carolina's Ed Cota blew a wide-open three and a layup in the final 50 seconds. Profit and Stokes made their free throws, and it was over.

Just another ACC victory?

Not on this night.

Not in the madhouse that was Cole.

Pub Date: 1/15/98

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