BAYAMON, Puerto Rico -- Two minutes, 53 seconds.
Eight possessions, as many baskets.
Twenty straight points.
Maryland introduced itself to upstart Pittsburgh and a national television audience last night with a rousing spurt that left the Panthers looking for cover and a tiny crowd at Eugenio Guerra Sport Complex howling in appreciation. The wreckage in the championship game of the Puerto Rico Shootout was 87-52, favor of Hurricane Terp.
The outcome proved that Maryland's early-season national ranking was a mistake. No. 6 in the preseason and No. 5 last week, Maryland (7-0) will end November better than that, as it could be as high as No. 2 when the rankings are updated tomorrow.
"I'm not going to say I expected this, but I did expect a great performance from us," said senior wing forward Laron Profit, who led the Terps with 23 points. "It's scary. This is a team with all the pieces to the puzzle."
Pittsburgh shortened the contest in Friday's semifinal upset of No. 4 Kentucky, when it ended the defending NCAA champions' win streak at 17 games. After Maryland moved from a 10-7 lead to 30-7 needed in just under three minutes, the Panthers just wanted to end it.
It was 51-17 in the second minute of the second half. In their Thanksgiving Day first-round feast of host team American University of Puerto Rico, Maryland was on top 49-17 at the half.
The temptation is to rationalize away the rout, argue that unranked Pittsburgh was too emotionally drained to put up a fight against what appears to be the most determined team coach Gary Williams has had in his 10 seasons in College Park. Forget it.
"It wasn't fatigue. We just didn't play together," Pitt guard Vonteego Cummings said of a problem the Terps obviously do not have. "Maryland's a good team. They showed they knew how to win the big one."
Pittsburgh (6-1) did not have a single win over a ranked opponent last season, when injuries led to an 11-16 record, but the rejuvenated Panthers pounded overrated No. 13 Xavier by 18 in the first round and handled Kentucky by 12 in the semis. The Terps forced the tempo this time, as Pitt quit against the Terps' pressure.
Had Williams, in all his years in the game, seen anything like it?
"No, not against a good team," Williams said. "Pitt proved it was good when it beat Kentucky. What you saw tonight, that was unique. You don't see that often."
The most comforting aspect of it all was that it included a breakout performance by Profit, who began the night in a shooting slump and ended it as the tournament's Most Valuable Player. The 20-0 run featured 11 points by Profit, including the first eight.
The three-point plays he converted, one in transition and another on a steal, were nice, but the most significant three was the one he made beyond the arc. After 10 misses, it was his first three-pointer of the season.
Profit eclipsed his season high at the half, when he had 17. He finished with 23 on 9-for-12 shooting, as the Terps turned their defense into easy chances and 63 percent (37-59) shooting. Only two teammates, Steve Francis with 19 and Juan Dixon with 12, scored in double figures, as Williams got contributions from whomever he sent in.
While Pitt coach Ralph Willard fiddled to no avail with his limited rotation, Williams got a typical lift from his bench. Freshman Danny Miller ended the big run with a steal and basket. In the eighth minute, in the middle of it all, Dixon was the fourth Terp to mark Cummings, although that was the primary responsibility of point guard Terrell Stokes, the unsung hero.
Maryland trailed for nine seconds here, in the first half of its semifinal whipping of UCLA, and from the opening tap last night, when Obinna Ekezie stepped on Attila Cosby's foot, the Terps were both savvy and hungry.
After misses at both ends, Francis established the tone and got a few hundred Terps fans on their feet with a transition dunk over Cosby, who, with wounded foot and pride, briefly took himself out. Profit hit a telling jumper, and Stokes pushed the pace on a 4-on-1 break that ended with Francis making it 10-4.
Cummings converted a three with 13: 43 left, and Pittsburgh didn't score again until more than four minutes later, as the Terps hounded the Panthers into 22.9 percent (14-61) shooting.
Maryland never let up, as the second half turned into an endless series of lob passes and dunks. With six minutes left, at 78-39, the Terps had still doubled the score on the Panthers, who used garbage time to cut Maryland's average margin of victory to 37.1 points.
It was Pittsburgh's worst loss in decades, and Maryland's first holiday tourney title outside the continental United States. It's
ready to make more noise stateside.
Terps' 20-0 run
Maryland broke open last night's rout of Pittsburgh with 20 straight points in the first half.
Player ......... Skinny ............... Time/Score
Profit ......... Backdoor dunk ........ 13: 16/12-7
Profit ......... 3-pointer ............ 12: 43/15-7
Profit ......... 3-point play ......... 12: 21/18-7
Francis ........ 3-pointer ............ 11: 58/21-7
Mardesich ...... Finger roll .......... 11: 36/23-7
Profit ......... 3-point play ......... 11: 23/26-7
Mardesich ...... Feed from Baxter ..... 10: 37/28-7
Miller ......... Steal and solo ....... 10: 23/30-7
Pub Date: 11/29/98