Terps roll, hope to be semi-tough

82-61 rout of Fla. State sends Maryland into semifinals vs. N.C. State

Baxter rules 'Noles again

UM hasn't played in ACC final since '84

March 11, 2000|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Here comes the hurdle that Maryland has stumbled over the past five years.

The Terps pounded exhausted and outmanned Florida State, 82-61, yesterday in an Atlantic Coast Conference tournament quarterfinal at the Charlotte Coliseum that wasn't that close. Coach Gary Williams insists that every year is different, but today the nation's No. 20 team can end the frustration that has been mounting in College Park for 16 years.

Second-seeded Maryland (23-8) meets N.C. State, a 76-65 winner over Virginia, in today's second semifinal at 4 p.m. The Terps have lost in this round in each of the past five years, and they are 0-8 in the semifinals since Maryland last took the tournament in 1984.

Asked about the five straight Saturday losses, Williams reacted with characteristic pique.

"That's pretty good, isn't it?" Williams said, looking at six straight semifinal berths in the nation's most storied college basketball conference tournament as a case of the glass being half full. "That's a negative?"

It will be viewed that way if Maryland falls today, when once again it will be the outsider. Regular-season champion Duke and Wake Forest meet at 1: 30 p.m., and for the third time in four years, the semifinals have three teams from North Carolina and the invaders from the north, the Terps.

The pivotal game of the ACC season occurred Feb. 6 at Cole Field House, when Maryland followed Lonny Baxter and Juan Dixon to a moving comeback over N.C. State. The Terps entered that game as a .500 team in the ACC, trailed by 12 with seven minutes left and scored the last 10 points for a 78-73 victory.

N.C. State (17-11) was thought of as an NCAA tournament-caliber team when it came to Cole with a 5-3 ACC mark, but the Wolfpack never recovered from that stunning setback. It began a seven-game losing skid for coach Herb Sendek's team.

Maryland will have about five more hours rest than N.C. State, and fatigue was definitely a factor yesterday. The seventh-seeded Seminoles had to work to the final buzzer to beat Georgia Tech on Thursday night, while the Terps had been sharpening their focus since last Saturday's overtime loss at Virginia.

The public address system's pre-game music included "The Ride of the Valkyries," which is in on the soundtrack of every other war film, and Maryland came out ready for battle. The starters pushed the pace, LaRon Cephas played in the first half and Earl Badu, a walk-on from St. Frances in Baltimore, got the second minute of his Maryland career.

The Terp starters averaged less than 25 minutes.

Weary Florida State hung around until the second minute, when Maryland started a 10-0 run that pushed its lead to 16-5. The difference got as large as 21 points in the first half and 32 in the second, as the Terps' ninth straight win over the Seminoles was never in doubt.

Maryland made its first five shots, and 64.3 percent (18-for-28) of its attempts in the first half. The big three of Baxter, Dixon and Terence Morris shot a combined 22-for-31 from the field, and Florida State has seen enough of the Terps' center for one season.

Baxter had 24 points in Tallahassee, and 21 against the Seminoles at Cole. He had game-high totals of 24 points and 10 rebounds yesterday, and when he converted a three-point play with 5: 24 left in the first half, Maryland had a 39-18 lead and Baxter was just one point behind Florida State.

"Lonny Baxter set the tone every time we played them this year," Seminoles coach Steve Robinson said. "Maybe I should send a letter for Gary to put his name in the [NBA] draft. He's done a tremendous job. Gary will be getting a Federal Express package from me tomorrow with that letter."

Dixon and Steve Blake combined for 13 assists and six steals, and the freshman point guard said: "I don't know when we had that much fun."

The effort got too laissez-faire for Williams in the 11th minute, when freshman reserve forward Tahj Holden jacked up a hasty three-pointer from the top of the key. At the next break, Williams grabbed Holden's uniform shirt and gave him some strong words.

"He [Williams] was telling me not to fade away, but I thought I got hit," Holden said. "He just grabbed me. I wasn't expecting it all. I thought it was a good shot. Then again, every shot I take, I think is a good shot."

Williams is on guard against any sign of complacency. His 21-year coaching career has been marked by good teams -- but not-so-great finishes -- and he used humor to answer questions about the semifinal hurdle.

"I'd love to get to the championship game," Williams said, a Maryland alumnus who never played in and has never coached in an ACC tournament outside North Carolina. "It's one of those things. I'm sure we'll win it when we play it in Baltimore."

NOTES: Morris had 17 points, and Dixon had 12. The sophomore guard took just eight shots, which matched his season low. The Terps went 0-9 from three-point range in the second half, but many of those attempts came in garbage time. Florida State's fatigue was most evident in its first-half free-throw shooting, 1-for-5.

ACC tournament

(At Charlotte, N.C.)

Today's semifinals

Wake Forest (17-13) vs.

Duke (25-4), 1: 30 p.m.

Maryland (23-8) vs. N.C. State (17-11), 4 p.m.

TV: Both games on Ch. 54

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