Terps grab 3-game rebound Upset of No. 1 UNC caps quick turnaround, likely return to Top 25

January 16, 1998|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- Can a college basketball team experience a greater range of emotion in a four-game span than the despair and delight that just engulfed Maryland?

"Probably not," coach Gary Williams said. "I thought about that after things quieted down Wednesday night. I'm sure there weren't any worse losses in my career than the Duke one. To go from that low to such a great high, what that does is show you the mental toughness of our players."

The resourceful Terps team that stopped No. 1 North Carolina, 89-83, in overtime two days ago bore little resemblance to the hapless one that lost by 32 to Duke on Jan. 3. That collapse at Cole gave Maryland an 0-2 start in the Atlantic Coast Conference, but its third straight win was a landmark conquest for all involved.

The Terps -- unranked but probably not for long -- got a huge lift from freshmen Mike Mardesich and Terence Morris. A year ago, Mardesich was redshirted, and Morris was at Frederick's Thomas Johnson High, where he wasn't exactly being challenged by the likes of Linganore and South Carroll.

It wasn't the first win over a top-ranked North Carolina team for Williams and three seniors. Rodney Elliott, Sarunas Jasikevicius and Matt Kovarik all played bit parts in Maryland's 86-73 defeat of the Tar Heels on Feb. 7, 1995, but the circumstances were radically different this time.

"This was more meaningful," Williams said. "North Carolina had Rasheed Wallace and Jerry Stackhouse then, but we had Joe Smith and Keith Booth. We were ranked No. 8, playing at our place, and that was an even game going in. To me, that wasn't an upset."

That win began a stretch in which Maryland has beaten North Carolina four straight seasons. The only other programs to accomplish that over the past two decades were their Tobacco Road rivals Duke, N.C. State and Wake Forest, which has defeated the Tar Heels the past five seasons.

Maryland doesn't have a Player of the Year candidate like Smith, just a band of athletes who seem to have found new conviction since the Duke loss. That dropped them to 7-5 overall and had fans wondering if they would be watching the Terps in the NIT instead of the NCAA tournament come March.

Mardesich and Morris came through in relief roles against North Carolina, as they combined to play 52 minutes when foul trouble limited big men Obinna Ekezie and Rodney Elliott to 22 and 26 minutes, respectively.

Another major factor in the win streak has been a return to normalcy by the two juniors, forward Laron Profit and point guard Terrell Stokes.

Profit still isn't shooting as well as he would like -- he has made 35.6 percent of his attempts in five ACC games -- but he wants the ball and has made 16 of 18 free-throw attempts during the streak. Stokes regained his starting spot last week, and his decision-making has steadied Maryland's half-court offense.

In the past three games, Stokes has made six of nine shots, had nine assists to just two turnovers, and won his matchup every time.

"Starting Matt Kovarik made Terrell take stock of where he was and what he was doing," Williams said. "I felt he was a much better player than what he was giving us. He isn't playing over his head; he's just playing up to his potential."

As for Maryland's potential, as tempting as it is, the Terps will try to avoid thoughts of where they can land in March.

Players weren't available for interviews yesterday. They were still digesting the meaty memories of an emotional win before a packed house and a national television audience, while Williams was embellishing the next course, tomorrow's game at Wake Forest.

In the cautionary tale department, Maryland lost to George Washington in the championship game of the Franklin National Bank Classic on Dec. 8, the day after it had played so well in a defeat of then-No. 2 Kansas.

"What I'll mention, rather than that [the GW loss], is Wake itself," Williams said. "They're in the same position we were in regarding Duke. They're certainly capable of beating us if we're not ready tomorrow."

The Demon Deacons were humbled by Duke on Wednesday, 88-52, the worst loss in the nine-year history of Lawrence Joel Coliseum. The Blue Devils figure to replace North Carolina atop the rankings.

The decades-long ties between Kansas and North Carolina, meanwhile, just keep getting stronger. Dean Smith played for one of college basketball's elite programs, and coached the other. Both are guided by Smith disciples, and in another two months, Roy Williams and Bill Guthridge could have two of the four No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament.

Now they have one other thing in common: Both were beaten by Maryland.

Terps over No. 1

Wednesday's 89-83 victory over North Carolina marked the fifth time in Maryland basketball history that the Terps had beaten the Associated Press' No. 1 team. All but one of those wins came over the Tar Heels. The scores, and how the Terps fared in their next game:

Date, Opponent, Score, Next game, Result

2/21/59, North Carolina, 69-51, Georgetown, W, 67-56

1/27/79, Notre Dame, 66-65, Virginia, L, 69-63

2/20/86, North Carolina, 77-72 (OT), Georgia Tech, L, 77-72

2/7/95, North Carolina, 86-73, Florida State, W, 80-65

North Carolina, 89-83 (OT), at Wake Forest, tomorrow

Pub Date: 1/16/98

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