WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- One game they run with -- and beat -- the Final Four crowd. The next they're bereft of emotion, and fall to lesser teams they should beat.
Maryland slipped again last night at Lawrence Joel Coliseum, as the Terps followed their classic win over No. 1 North Carolina with an uninspired 72-60 loss to a Wake Forest team that had spent the last month in a self-destruct mode.
That win over the Tar Heels was the Terps' third straight and lifted them to third place in the Atlantic Coast Conference, but none of the work that went into the mini-streak was evident as Maryland never led and fell to 10-6 overall, 3-3 in the conference.
The Terps fell behind 10-0, climbed within one with 13 minutes left, then acquiesced for good, as Wake Forest (9-6, 2-3) blew the game open with an 11-0 run.
"I thought we were really going to be able to play well tonight," said Laron Profit, Maryland's lone scoring threat with 25 points. "I thought we would respond well after beating North Carolina, and we were looking to make another statement. But I don't think we matched their [Wake Forest's] intensity, or aggressiveness."
The Terps are the only team in the nation with two wins over teams ranked in the top five, a distinction with a maddening twist. They beat then-No. 2 Kansas, but lost to George Washington the next day. Want the longer view? The Terps' history includes five wins over the No. 1 team, and this is the third time they followed with a loss.
Wake Forest's problems peaked Friday afternoon, when coach Dave Odom announced that he had suspended his only accomplished inside player, 7-foot-1 center Loren Woods, indefinitely. He was putting too much pressure on himself, taking too much heat for six losses in the Demon Deacons' last eight games.
The most recent setback had been a humiliating 88-52 whipping at the hands of soon-to-be No. 1 Duke on Wednesday, the program's worst loss in 15 years. Maryland coach Gary Williams tried to remind his players that they had been on a mission since a similar setback to the Blue Devils Jan. 3, but the point was lost on them.
Wake Forest started four freshmen and never went with fewer than three. It was smaller, quicker and a lot hungrier than Maryland. The same Terps team that out-rebounded No. 1 North Carolina and then-No. 13 Florida State was beaten there, and if this was a lacrosse game, the Demon Deacons would have had %% a huge advantage in ground balls.
"Obviously, that's the best we've played in a long, long time," Odom said. "It was a great night for us. We had key threes, key rebounds, and key loose balls."
The Terps, meanwhile, were as flat as a soda left open from New Year's. Had Profit ever seen them be a step behind on that many loose balls?
"Never," Profit said. "Never except for maybe the Duke loss."
Minus Woods, who was the Demon Deacons' leading rebounder and No. 3 scorer, Odom's strategy centered on the three-pointer at both ends.
When the Demon Deacons had the ball in the first half, they often ran the shot clock down, before freshman Robert O'Kelley or Steve Goolsby fired beyond the arc. When Maryland had it, Wake Forest doubled down on inside threats Obinna Ekezie and Rodney Elliott, and forced the Terps to beat them on the perimeter.
Maryland, one of the worst three-point teams in the ACC, made five of 18. Ekezie got off two shots in the second half, and Elliott scored a season-low five points before fouling out with 6: 54 left. Profit scored his game high on 10-of-22 shooting, but the rest of the Terps were 12 of 41, 29.3 percent from the field.
It was their lowest point total of the season and their 34.9 percent field-goal shooting was also a season worst.
Wake Forest got 17 points from O'Kelley, and 16 from freshman forward Niki Arinze, but this one wasn't about the Demon Deacons' offense. At the defensive end, they were a team possessed from the opening tap.
The Terps' first eight possessions produced two misses by Sarunas Jasikevicius; one by Profit; a player-control foul by Ekezie; and four other turnovers.
When Tony Rutland sank a shot from deep in the right corner and was fouled by Profit, Williams had seen enough. Off came his coat, and even though the officials were ready to take a break for ESPN, he took a 20-second timeout and ripped into his players.
"I thought our guys were old enough to understand that they have to be ready to play every night," Ekezie said. "They out-worked us from the start."
It was the third instance in the past four games when Williams needed 20 seconds to get his team's attention. He did the same in the first minute of the second half against Florida State and early against North Carolina, when the Terps fell behind 9-2, but he didn't get the same result this time.
Rutland made the free throw and completed his four-point play for the 10-0 lead after just 4: 35, but then the Terps began to play with a clue at the offensive end. Ekezie got their first seven points, and Jasikevicius' three from the left wing got them within 12-10.
Wake Forest steadied itself, and pushed its lead to 39-30 with 14: 44 left, just after Williams went to the 3-2 zone that had served the Terps so well against N.C. State and North Carolina.
For the first time all night, Maryland showed some life, as freshman Terence Morris produced the first points off the bench, Terrell Stokes fed Profit for a three-point play and hit a three-pointer of his own to trim the difference to one with 12: 58 left.
The run stopped there. Goolsby hit two three-pointers, the Demon Deacons scored 11 straight points, and the lead was back up to 53-40 with 7: 59 left.
After that, Maryland got as close as 10 points just once, as Ekezie, an 82.4 percent free-throw shooter in the seven previous games, missed five straight at one point.
"This just shows the importance of emotion," Williams said. "I'm disappointed we didn't have that against Wake tonight."
Pub Date: 1/18/98 %%