4-1 Terps head into exams with focus No. 1 question

Staying focused was the cliche du jour among the University of Maryland basketball team after the Terrapins beat La Salle on Saturday night at the Philadelphia Civic Center.

Senior co-captain Evers Burns talked about how a conversation with his two older brothers before the 1992-93 season has helped him stay -- you got it -- focused during the first five games.


Maryland coach Gary Williams and his players talked about how they hoped to stay -- here's that word again -- focused as they were about to begin an 11-day break for exams. The 93-76 victory over the Explorers was the third straight for the 4-1 Terps.

"Talking to my brothers, they were telling me that I have to play at the same level every game," said Burns. "And being the youngest, I listen to what my brothers tell me."


The 6-foot-7, 250-pound forward from Woodlawn has heeded his siblings' advice. His 29-point performance against La Salle (2-2) came on a night when he made 13 of 19 shots, to go along with 10 rebounds.

It was the second time in five games that Burns broke his previous career high of 25, set in last year's ACC tournament quarterfinals against Duke. It was also the fourth time this season that Burns has scored 20 points or more.

"I think the difference this year is that I'm a lot quicker and in better shape than I was last year," said Burns, who has dropped about 10 pounds and seems to have much more stamina than a year ago. "I know some people didn't think I could score like this without Walt [Williams], but I always had the confidence."

Though it might be early to jump on Maryland's bandwagon, this has the makings of a better all-around team than last season. Freshmen Johnny Rhodes and Exree Hipp have more than made up for the loss of All-American Williams.

Rhodes scored a season-low 11 points against La Salle, but the 6-4 guard added seven assists, six rebounds, three steals and one blocked shot. Hipp, a 6-7, 180-pound forward, finished with 19 points on 9-for-13 shooting, eight rebounds, four assists and no turnovers in 32 minutes.

"Those two kids," said La Salle coach Speedy Morris, "could play anywhere in the country."

The pattern Maryland followed in Philadelphia was similar to the one the Terps had established earlier in the week against American University: build an early lead, lose most of it by halftime and then blow out the opposition with a sizzling second-half run.

In this case, Maryland saw a 38-23 lead cut to 42-38 by halftime and to 44-42 early in the second half. The Terps then went on a 34-14 run to break open the game. In one stretch they hit seven straight shots and forced five straight La Salle turnovers.


"We played with more intensity," said Burns, who is averaging nearly 24 points while shooting better than 58 percent from the field. "Unlike the West Virginia game, we played to win, we didn't play not to lose."

In other words, the Terps regained their focus while the Explorers, who start nearly as young a team as Maryland, lost theirs. Now Gary Williams can't let his team -- sorry about this, folks -- lose its focus, as happened at a similar juncture in the 1991-92 season.

Last year, Maryland started out 7-1 before going off for exams. By the time the Terps returned for a tournament at the University of Arizona, you guessed it. The result was an eight-game losing streak, including the first six in the ACC.

"That was a bad period, coming off exams," said Williams, who will have his team back on the court for practice today. "We have to take a look at what happened last year. We have to do a good job staying in shape."

Staying focused, too.