UM opener is open and shut case Terps pile up largest victory margin in 113-46 romp over W. Carolina

'Saw a team ready to play'

Francis scores 17, adds nine assists in debut

November 15, 1998|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- Coming out like a junkyard dog that hadn't eaten since last Wednesday, No. 6 Maryland began the basketball season with a 113-46 feast of Western Carolina that was the most lopsided victory ever for the Terps.

Maryland hadn't tasted a victory in 245 days, since it beat Illinois to get to the Sweet 16 last March, and coach Gary Williams' team displayed an edge that showed it won't be satisfied just getting to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament this time.

"You saw a team ready to get out and play," senior wing forward Laron Profit said. "We were tired of reading newspapers, everyone telling us how good we are. We wanted to get out there and go."

Maryland led 8-0 after its first four possessions, and 51-17 after 18 minutes, as a rebuilding team from the Southern Conference was no match for a group that has been mentioned by many as Final Four material.

A Cole Field House sellout crowd of 14,500 relished the rout. When it was 60-22 early in the second half, Catamounts coach Phil Hopkins made a defensive switch, smiled and cracked, "Not that it matters."

The game marked the Maryland debut of three freshmen and Steve Francis, who was the nation's premier junior-college guard last winter. The junior from Takoma Park and Allegany College will do more than complement a program that has made a school-record five straight NCAA appearances.

The four rookies join five holdovers, and every combination Williams tried clicked in a romp brimming with backdoor cuts for lob dunks, circus moves in transition and Terps fighting each other for rebounds. Once they got the ball, they didn't hog it, as 33 of their 46 baskets were assisted.

"The way we play, I expect some turnovers, but tonight our passing was very crisp," Williams said. "These guys play together, there's no jealousy. Everybody's going to play and they know it. Coaching all of these players is a challenge, because you have to work to get the best players on the court at the best time."

Francis collected 17 points on 8-for-10 shooting and nine assists, and there were stretches in the second half when he took over the game. His highlights included transition plays at both ends, as he had a roundhouse dunk off a lob from Terrell Stokes in the first half, and hustled to block what should have been an easy basket for Michael Plavich in the second.

Francis and Stokes, the starter at the point, combined for 13 assists and no turnovers in the first half. Stokes finished with 15 assists, breaking the school single-game mark of 14 he set two years ago.

Senior center Obinna Ekezie had early foul trouble, then scored 13 of his game-high 19 in the second half. He missed just one of his nine shots. Terence Morris, the sophomore forward from Frederick, came out firing, as the offense came his way in the first eight minutes. He ended with 16.

Juan Dixon, the redshirt freshman from Calvert Hall, had 14 points on four three-pointers, including a 25-footer in the first half. Profit also had 14.

Ekezie established the tone when he ripped down two misses on the game's opening possession.

Western Carolina hung around and cut its deficit to 21-13, but a second three-pointer by Morris started an 11-0 run. After a follow basket by Dondrell Whitmore, the Catamounts' only returning starter, Maryland went on a 19-2 run.

"This was as good a team as I've ever coached against," Hopkins said. "I knew they were good. I had no idea they were that good."

It was Maryland's 59th straight non-conference win at Cole, the second-longest streak in the nation.

Pub Date: 11/15/98

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