LANDOVER -- For an early-season game of such little consequence, there was a lot at stake last night for Maryland and George Washington at USAir Arena. The right to claim the title as the best college basketball team in the area. Perhaps even a place in next week's Top 25.
And, yes, the championship trophy of the Franklin National Bank Classic.
Despite a shaky start in which they fell behind by as many as 12 points, and a few nervous moments in the second half when they couldn't hold an eight-point lead, the Terrapins somehow managed to survive by making enough free throws down the stretch to beat the Colonials, 74-68.
The victory gave Maryland (6-0) its best start since the 1980-81 season and some momentum going into its Atlantic Coast Conference opener Thursday night against Georgia Tech at Cole Field House. Much of it was courtesy of tournament MVP Keith Booth, who led the Terps with 29 points, 20 in the second half, and 12 rebounds.
"We lost to a very good basketball team that has one of the best coaches in the country and one of the best players in the country in Keith Booth," said GW coach Mike Jarvis, whose 5-2 Colonials came into the game one place out of the Top 25, four spots ahead of Maryland. "We have nothing to be ashamed of."
Said Maryland coach Gary Williams: "Keith Booth is one of the top 10 seniors in the country and I'm tired of the fact that people ignore him. I just want to know who the other nine seniors are better than him."
Booth got GW's two Belorussian big men -- 7-1 center Alexander Koul (24 points) and 6-7 forward Yegor Mescheriakov (19) -- into second-half foul trouble by himself. The 6-6 forward went to the foul line a school-record 24 times and hit 16 free throws. Two of the biggest came after he grabbed an offensive rebound and was fouled by fellow Baltimorean Shawnta Rogers with 2: 18 to go.
Rogers fouled out on the play, one of three GW players to be disqualified. But the biggest and most controversial foul call -- what Jarvis later said was a "phantom" call by the all-ACC officiating crew -- came in the final minute.
After Mescheriakov hit a pair of free throws with 24.3 seconds left to cut Maryland's lead to 71-68, backup guard Rasheed Hazzard was called for an intentional foul as Booth dribbled by. Booth made one of two free throws. Maryland retained possession and Matt Kovarik was fouled, hitting both shots to ice the victory.
"Did you see an intentional foul at the end of the game? I didn't," said an obviously perturbed Jarvis. "But what I told my team was that you don't want to put yourself in a situation to have a call that crucial decide the game. If we did a better job at other key points in the game, it wouldn't have come down to a call like that."
Asked about the intentional foul call, veteran official Sam Croft said, "If he [the defender] doesn't play the ball and he grabs around the waist, it's an intentional foul."
In all, Maryland went to the free-throw line 47 times, making 33 of its shots, to 14 of 20 for the Colonials. The Terrapins hit 11 of their last 14 free throws in the final 2: 18, including six of eight by sophomore point guard Terrell Stokes.
"I figured that it would come down to something like that," said Stokes, whose late heroics made up for an otherwise difficult night that included 1-for-7 shooting, one assist and six turnovers. "The refs were calling it kind of bad at times."
Rogers, who didn't start after being late to yesterday's shoot-around, couldn't have agreed more with his counterpart.
"I don't feel so bad because they didn't let a lot of things go [equally] at both ends," said Rogers, who was 1-for-8 from the field and finished with as many turnovers (five) as assists. "It was obvious what was going on. It was terrible."
One thing is becoming obvious for Maryland: this team collectively might be better than it is individually. Though Stokes, sophomore guard Laron Profit and junior guard Sarunas Jasikevicius struggled -- they shot 4-for-18, including two of eight on threes -- junior forward Rodney Elliott came off the bench for 12 points.
Nor did the Terrapins fold after falling behind 7-0, 16-4 and 18-9 early. "We're always picking up for each other and we're always working hard," said Booth. "You can have great players but not have a great team. You can have players with average talent and as long as you work hard, you have a chance to be great. I just tried to do what we needed."
NOTES: In the consolation game last night, Cal (5-2) rebounded from its 16-point defeat to Maryland by beating 2-3 Mississippi State, 78-45.
Pub Date: 12/10/96