Terps pass over Tech to semis UM's ball movement faultless in 83-65 ACC tourney victory

Tar Heels are up next

Fourth straight win ratchets up confidence

March 07, 1998|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Maryland can beat North Carolina today. It already has. It will be no shock if the Terps get through the first weekend of the NCAA tournament, either, and they could become a hot commodity in March because of an unglamorous attribute: their passing.

After No. 21 Maryland moved into the semifinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament yesterday with an 83-65 rout of Georgia Tech at the Greensboro Coliseum, coach Gary Williams didn't bite on the question, but has he ever had a Terps team that moved the ball this well?

"If you want to complain about something, being too unselfish isn't a bad place to start," said Sarunas Jasikevicius, when he was asked if Maryland might have been guilty of overpassing in the second half. "That doesn't lose too many games."

Winners of four straight for the first time this season, the Terps could finally earn some notice on Tobacco Road today (1: 30 p.m.) when they meet North Carolina in the first semifinal. The championship game comes tomorrow (1 p.m.), then it's off to the NCAAs.

In contrast to its mood earlier this season, Maryland (19-9) is humming.

After an ugly loss at Clemson, junior center Obinna Ekezie groused that the Terps weren't passing well and utilizing their inside game. They have turned on that power, their post men and perimeter players are feeding off each other and junior point guard Terrell Stokes is starting every possession with a purpose.

The cautionary tale is their collapse of last season, when Maryland had an ACC all-star in Keith Booth, but slid badly in February and won once in the postseason. This no-name team didn't have anyone voted first- or second-team all-ACC, but it finished third in the regular season and possesses some serious momentum.

"You want to know why?" Ekezie said. "Last year, we didn't pass the ball well down the stretch at all. We were a one-man team. People understand what happened in the past, and we've talked about that. This year, we realized that it's a team game. You don't win as individuals, you win as a team."

The Terps' victory over Temple in the regular-season finale began on the outside, and they hit a season-high 61.5 percent (eight of 13) beyond the arc yesterday, but Ekezie was the catalyst.

The native of Nigeria scored the first four times he touched the ball, and when he finally got the Yellow Jackets' attention, found the open man. His foul-line jumper put the Terps on top 8-2 in the second minute, and sixth-seeded Georgia Tech (17-13) never again had a shot at the lead.

Maryland is going to the NCAA tournament for a school-record fifth straight time. The first two bids revolved around Joe Smith, a Player of the Year pivot man. The last two were overreliant on pressure defense. Now, the Terps have a different formula, and it's becoming rote.

Yesterday's win was the third in the four-game streak in which five Terps scored in double figures. Two-thirds of their baskets were assisted, and the first-half rate was 15 of 19. Their movement befuddled Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins, who started in a man defense, hurried into a zone and never found anything that worked for long.

Junior forward Laron Profit got nine of his game-high 19 points in a two-minute span in the second half, when he pushed the spread to 61-46. Jasikevicius had 18, including a huge three-pointer on a kick-out from Stokes with 5: 55 left that triggered a clinching 9-0 run.

Ekezie kept the ball off the floor when he was in traffic, and had 16 points and four assists, the most he's ever had in a big game.

Terence Morris, the freshman from Frederick, showed off Maryland's depth by going 5-for-5 from the field in the first half. Senior forward Rodney Elliott had a slower start, but finished with 13 points and led the Terps in rebounds (eight) for the fifth straight game.

"The key to what we've done recently is that we'll pass up a good shot for a better one," Elliott said.

It all started with Stokes, whose eight assists included some of his best penetration of the year. There were the requisite alley-oops, and Maryland even passed the well from the bench.

LaRon Cephas' last-minute shot was swatted away by Alvin Jones, right to Jasikevicius, who had taken a seat. He quickly passed the ball right back to Cephas.

The Terps rarely let up at the defensive end, where they pressed and trapped Matt Harpring into his third straight miserable game against them.

In the first four tournament games here, Maryland was the only team in an offensive comfort zone from the start. No. 1 Duke struggled against Virginia Thursday night. No. 3 North Carolina didn't find its rhythm against N.C. State yesterday until the second half.

The Terps? They haven't trailed in their last 96 minutes, and Elliott was slightly taken aback when asked if his team was bolstered by yesterday's quick start.

"Our confidence was there when we got here," Elliott said.

ACC tournament

# At Greensboro, N.C.

Today's semifinals

Maryland (19-9) vs. N.C. (28-3), 1: 30 p.m., 54 9 25

@4 Duke (28-2) vs. Clemson (18-12), 4 p.m., 54 9 25

Tomorrow's championship

) Semifinal winners, 1 p.m.

54 9 25

Pub Date: 3/07/98

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