LANDOVER -- The Maryland Terrapins seem to like the role they've been thrust into this season. They may be undersized and overlooked, but they remain undaunted by the general lack of respect that has followed them.
"Let them keep doubting us," sophomore point guard Terrell Stokes said. "We'll accept the challenge."
Maryland quieted a few skeptics yesterday with a convincing 80-64 victory over California in the opening round of the Franklin National Bank Classic at USAir Arena. The victory was the fifth straight without a defeat for the Terrapins, but the first against an opponent from a major conference. Or even a mid-major.
Behind a career-high 24 points from sophomore Laron Profit, as well as 22 points and seven rebounds from senior captain Keith Booth, Maryland broke open a close game early in the second half. Profit's three-point shot started a 22-8 run that helped push a 40-36 halftime lead to 66-48 with 7: 43 remaining. It put away the Bears of the Pacific-10 Conference.
"When we came out of the locker room at halftime, we were saying, 'Let's jump on them and get out on a run,' " said Profit, who started the second half after not starting the game for disciplinary reasons and hit five straight shots. The first three of them were threes, in what would be a 10-of-14 performance. "We really strapped it on defensively," he said.
The quick-shooting Bears certainly played into Maryland's hands. The team that played with patience in beating Iowa and Massachusetts before putting a mild scare into now top-ranked Kansas in the Maui Classic didn't take advantage of its size and stopped going inside in the second half.
Instead, California (4-2) settled for mostly perimeter jumpers, with guards Ed Gray, Prentice McGruder and Randy Duck combining to make 14 of 36 shots. Gray, who came in averaging more than 25 points a game, scored 12 on 4-for-15 shooting. Duck led the Bears with 19 points.
"I thought they took the ball to the basket on us," said first-year Cal coach Ben Braun, whose team allowed the Terrapins to hit 14 of 24 second-half shots while shooting 32.4 percent itself. "I thought our help defense was very poor. I can't think of very many things we did well defensively. I thought we helped their cause. When we rushed our shots, they got so many easy baskets. Maryland did a good job in their transition game."
Said Profit, who also had five rebounds, three assists, two blocks and one steal in 30 minutes: "I thought the key for us was our defensive rebounding. We were able to get out on the break and hit our shots."
Booth had rebounding help from his former Dunbar teammate, junior forward Rodney Elliott, as well as sophomores Obinna Ekezie and Brian Watkins. Elliott, who started in Profit's place, finished with 11 points and six rebounds. Ekezie, a 6-foot-10 center, had 10 points and seven rebounds despite early foul trouble. Watkins, a transfer from Notre Dame, had five rebounds in 11 minutes.
But it was Profit's three-point shooting that seemed to take the steam out of California and lift the Terrapins into tonight's championship game against George Washington. The first two came from nearly the same spot, about 20 feet out on the right wing. The third, from a similar distance, came from the left wing. He finished Maryland's big run with a 10-foot bank shot and a breakaway layup.
"It all came within the offense," Booth said. "We didn't go out there and force anything.
"This is a big game. California has proven they're a good team and we wanted to prove that [we are], too. We did a good job."
Even Maryland coach Gary Williams wasn't sure how to gauge his Terrapins after their first four games, all lopsided victories against marginal -- or worse -- teams. Based on some of his post-game comments, Williams seems to be motivating his players on how little some are expecting from the team this season.
"This is like a quiz early in the semester," he said. "We're not too excited about this win. We have a tough game [tonight] and a tough game Thursday [against Georgia Tech]. We have some confidence -- maybe nobody else has. We're not shocked. We're not surprised. Some people are, but we're not."
NOTES: Booth set a school record by starting his 99th straight game, breaking the mark set last year by Exree Hipp. The 5-0 start represents the best for Maryland since the 1993-94 season, when the Terrapins started 8-0 before losing to UMass at Baltimore Arena.
Maryland (5-0) vs. G. Washington (5-1)
What: Franklin National Bank Classic championship
Site: USAir Arena, Landover
Time: Approximately 8: 30
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Outlook: The Terrapins are coming off an impressive 80-64 victory yesterday over California. In George Washington, Maryland is facing a quality center, 7-foot-1 junior Alexander Koul, and a quality point guard, 5-4 sophomore Shawnta Rogers. While the matchups between Koul and Obinna Ekezie and Rogers and Terrell Stokes will be important, perhaps the most crucial head-to-head competition will be Maryland's Keith Booth and GW's Yegor Mescheriakov, a 6-7 sophomore forward with good range and long arms. Stokes needs to keep Rogers from penetrating and Ekezie has to keep Koul off stride. Rebounding will be important to the Terrapins if they are to run their fast break. Another interesting rivalry is between coaches Gary Williams and Mike Jarvis. It dates to their days in Boston, when Williams was at Boston College and Jarvis at Boston University.
Pub Date: 12/09/96