Johnny Rhodes doesn't play center and he isn't 6 feet 10, but Maryland's versatile guard did a pretty nifty impersonation of Joe Smith last night.
Rhodes scored 22 points, including 12 down the stretch, to carry the Terps past gritty Towson State, 70-67, before 5,708 at the Baltimore Arena.
As was often the case with Smith a year ago, the Terps wouldn't have won without Rhodes' contribution, which included a team-high 12 rebounds and two steals. This came on the heels of Rhodes' career-high 30-point effort against Kentucky last week.
"Johnny did his normal great game," said Maryland point guard Duane Simpkins after the Terps squeaked out their first win of the season.
Rhodes scored 12 of 16 Maryland points down the stretch as the Terps wiped out a 55-47 deficit, and Simpkins scored the team's final four points to avert Towson's upset bid.
"Playing this game between Kentucky and UMass, I knew this game would be difficult," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "Towson State is a very good team. They were very patient, much more than Kentucky. They took their time and got shots in the first half.
"To their credit, they never folded. They were there to the end."
Towson, now 0-11 against the Terps, controlled the tempo much of the night with its guard-oriented offense. Behind Ralph Blalock (22 points) and Scooter Alexander (16), the Tigers pulled out to a 39-33 halftime lead. They were ahead by as many as nine in the second half before Maryland finally made its move.
The Terps, who dropped to 19th in the AP poll yesterday, won with defense and Rhodes' clutch performance, but had to weather a last-second shot by Blalock to secure the win.
Alexander got Towson's last tie at 65 on a short jumper with 2:30 to play. From there, Keith Booth, a former Dunbar star who came home to play before friends and family, hit one of two free throws at 2:08 and Simpkins cashed in two at 1:05. That made it 68-65.
But Matt Dellinger, Towson's 6-7 transfer from Cleveland State, drove the baseline for a basket to cut Maryland's lead to one.
With 22 seconds left, Williams called time and set up a play for Rhodes. But Rhodes was covered, so Simpkins hit a driving one-hander for a crucial basket with 12.1 seconds left.
"The play was designed to get Johnny open on a curl move," said Simpkins, who finished with 16 points and five assists. "But somebody held him up and I didn't want to throw him the ball. That was option one. Option two was me taking my man to the basket."
At 70-67, there was still time for Towson to get off a three-pointer. But against a tough defense, Blalock was forced to launch a 40-footer that came up short.
"Maryland kept its composure at the end," said Towson coach Terry Truax. "We didn't. I probably did a poor job at the end. We should have gotten a better shot.
"We gave up some easy baskets late in the game. In a close game, your mistakes are magnified. I hope that our kids realize that if we can go to the Arena and play with Maryland, we can go to Boston U. and win."
For the Terps, Booth had 11 points and nine rebounds, and fellow Dunbar graduate Rodney Elliott contributed four points and six rebounds in 18 quality minutes.
"The last five minutes we decided we were not going to lose the game," Booth said.
Said Elliott: "We ran our trap plays and everything sort of fell into place."
Rhodes, meanwhile, played the last five minutes with a sprained right ankle -- and wore an ice pack after the game. His 22-point game lifted him into 15th place on Maryland's all-time scoring list, ahead of -- who else? -- Joe Smith.
"We weren't ready to play to night," he said. "We were in a slump until the last couple of minutes. You have to be consistent and play hard for 40 minutes."