COLLEGE PARK -- The chant was inevitable and, with about five minutes left in Maryland's game against South Carolina State, it began to ring in Cole Field House: "We want Duke, we want Duke "
The Duke game will have to wait until Sunday. And when it occurs, Maryland will have a 13-1 record, after yesterday's 104-70 win over South Carolina State before a sellout crowd of 14,500. The win extended the nation's longest nonconference home winning streak to 64.
Maybe the fans want No. 2-ranked Duke after watching No. 5 Maryland beat North Texas and South Carolina State in consecutive games by a combined 109 points. Although the final score doesn't indicate it, South Carolina State (4-6) actually gave the Terps a battle, and the Bulldogs were within five points of Maryland early in the second half.
The key to the Bulldogs' success: forcing Maryland to shoot from the outside, an option the Terrapins were much too eager to accept in the first half. A 20-point lead by the Terrapins was cut to 11 by halftime, as the Maryland perimeter players went trigger-happy and center Obinna Ekezie was ignored (one point, missing all four of his field-goal attempts).
"South Carolina State played very smart, very intelligent and really came out and packed it in," said Maryland coach Gary Williams. "Usually, we do a good job of getting the ball inside."
The start of the second half was different -- the Terrapins went right to Ekezie early. In fact, Maryland's first seven field goals of the second half came on either layups or dunks, many sparked by defensive pressure that forced 34 South Carolina State turnovers. And a second-half skirmish, in which players from both teams had to be separated in front of the South Carolina State bench, appeared to fire up Maryland.
What had been a five-point lead by Maryland with 15: 44 left in the game turned into a 22-point lead after Ekezie converted a three-point play with 7: 21 left, giving the Terrapins an 84-62 edge. Ekezie scored 17 of his 18 in the second half, helping turn a tight game into a rout.
"If I was [Ekezie], as much rebounding and battling as he does down there and they're not getting me the ball, it would be hard for me to stay intense," said guard Steve Francis, who had 21 points and his usual three or four highlight-reel dunks. "When we got the ball down there, he showed what he could do."
Said Ekezie: "The first half, we didn't get the ball inside. I probably touched the ball twice inside. We took too many jump shots. I wasn't frustrated. I'm not going to go out yelling and screaming at my teammates. That's not the kind of team we have this year."
What proved to be the biggest factor of the game was Maryland's depth. The Terrapins' nine-man rotation wore out South Carolina State. The Bulldogs' starters, playing the bulk of the minutes, combined for 26 of the team's 34 turnovers (guard James Jones had nine, forward Arthur Carlisle eight -- seven of those in 14 first-half minutes). After cutting the Maryland lead to five, the Bulldogs were too tired to get over the hump.
"They pressured us into taking quick shots [after cutting the lead], and that's what happens when you allow yourself to be mentally and physically fatigued," said South Carolina State coach Cy Alexander. "We cut the lead to five points, and then we didn't score on the next nine possessions."
Maryland had four players in double figures, led by Laron Profit's season-high 25 points (it marked the second time in his career he has scored 20 or more points in three straight games). Terrell Stokes played yet another unselfish game, taking only two shots, but handing off 12 assists and recording eight steals.
So the nonconference part of the season is over. And Maryland gets nearly a week to prepare for its showdown against Duke, a game that will match two Top 5 teams.
"I remember I heard people saying the schedule was too tough, I was stupid to schedule so many good teams -- I haven't heard that recently," Williams said. "We've really been ready to play most of the time. To be 13-1 now, perhaps halfway through the season, is a lot better than most people thought we'd be."
Pub Date: 12/28/98