COLLEGE PARK -- Maryland's basketball team took a right cross to the chin yesterday.
Then the Terps got to face Tim Duncan.
It was a one-two punch they couldn't survive.
Duncan, the splendid 6-foot-10 All-American, scored a career-high 33 points last night to pull No. 8 Wake Forest past Maryland, 85-78, before a sellout crowd of 14,500 at Cole Field House.
Earlier in the day, the Terps suffered a psychological blow when they learned they had lost senior point guard Duane Simpkins for three games for a violation of an NCAA bylaw prohibiting preferential benefits.
Simpkins was suspended for attempting to repay a university loan with money he received from his former AAU coach.
The emotional breach was evident on the court. Maryland staggered to a 29-16 deficit in the game's first 10 minutes, then scrambled back for a 40-39 halftime lead. Even though the Terps led by as many as five points early in the second half, they weren't able to sustain it in the face of Duncan's power game and Wake's three-point sharpshooters.
"The game was probably lost in the first seven or eight minutes," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "It takes a lot out of you to come back against a good team like that."
The Demon Deacons (17-3,9-2) won their fourth straight game and increased their lead over second-place Georgia Tech in the Atlantic Coast Conference to one game. The two teams meet tomorrow in Atlanta.
The loss spoiled some exceptional individual efforts by the Terps. There was a monster, 27-point, 10-rebound, five-steal performance by Johnny Rhodes. There was a 16-point game by Keith Booth. And there was the inspired play of two freshman point guards, Terrell Stokes (four points, three assists, two steals) and Laron Profit (10 points, six steals, four assists).
On top of that, Obinna Ekezie pulled a groin muscle in the game's first two minutes when he collided with teammate Exree Hipp. After going to the locker room to ice the injury, he returned to play 25 gritty minutes against Duncan, collecting seven points and seven rebounds.
Beyond the loss of Simpkins and the injury to Ekezie, it was a difficult defeat for the Terps. They fell to 5-6 in the ACC and 12-9 overall going into Sunday's nonconference game against Missouri.
"We really need that one," Stokes said of a game with NCAA tournament implications.
The Terps had their chances. They logged 16 steals, forced 22 turnovers and shot 44.6 percent. They were up 52-47 four minutes into the second half.
Then Duncan finished his own personal run of eight Wake points and Tony Rutland (18 points) cashed in two straight three-pointers for a 55-52 Wake lead.
Duncan added two more free throws for a five-point lead. The Terps got as close as 62-61 on Sarunas Jasikevicius' three-pointer, but no closer. Wake hit its last 10 free throws to seal the victory.
"We didn't run a good enough offense in the second half," Williams said. "We couldn't score a couple of times, and against a good team, that's all it takes."
Williams struck gold with a decision to use Profit behind Stokes at point guard, instead of Rhodes.
"They told me I had to be ready to play point guard," said Profit, who played point most of his high school career in Dover, Del. "I went in ready to deal with whatever happened. I feel versatile enough to play point guard."
The move was necessitated by the loss of Simpkins, who watched the game from the bench. Williams banned any questions after the game about the suspension.
"He's one of those people you appreciate having in the program because he makes the program look good," Williams said. "We all make mistakes. . . . He'll be our starting point guard when we play down in Clemson [Feb. 24]."