LANDOVER -- For an early-season game of little consequence, there was a lot of 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 rankings.
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. Senior captain Keith Booth led the Terrapins with 29 points, 20 in the second half, and 12 rebounds.
"Keith Booth is one of the top 10 seniors in the country and I'm tired of the fact that people ignore him," Maryland coach Gary Williams said of the senior forward, who nearly single-handedly got GW's two big men, Alexander Koul and Yegor Mescheriakov, in second-half foul trouble. "I just want to know the other nine seniors better than him."
Booth went to to the foul line 24 times and hit 16 of his 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 exit early.
But the biggest and most controversial foul call -- what GW coach Mike Jarvis labeled a "phantom" call by the all-ACC officiating crew -- came in the final minute. It happened after forward Mescheriakov (19 points) had hit a pair of free throws with 24.3 seconds left to cut Maryland's lead to 71-68.
Going for a steal in the backcourt, Rasheed Hazzard was called for an intentional foul as Booth dribbled by with 21.3 seconds to play. 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. If we did a better job at other key points in the game, it wouldn't have come down to a call like that."
NTC 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 the game after being late to yesterday's shoot-around, couldn't have agreed more with his Maryland counterpart.
"I don't feel so bad because they didn't let a lot of things go [equally] at both ends," he said. "It was obvious what was going on [with an all-ACC crew]."
The third area product in the game, Maryland's Rodney Elliott, also played an important role, with 12 points and four rebounds.
The Maryland team that came out last night was not the one that had beaten Cal by 16 points Sunday. The Terrapins were sloppy with the ball and lazy going after rebounds.
The result was the Colonials scored the game's first seven points and jumped to a 16-4 lead in the first seven minutes. Maryland had turnovers on each of its first four possessions and eight of its first 10.
But the Terrapins came back. Starting with a pair of free throws by Elliott, Maryland went on an 11-0 run to take a 21-19 lead with 8: 43 left in the half on a pair of free throws by Booth.
Eventually, Maryland was able to build its lead. With the score tied at 27, Booth hit his first three-pointer of the season. After Koul (24 points) brought GW back within a point on another rebound follow -- he had three in a 14-point half -- the Terrapins scored the last four points to lead 34-29 at the half.
NOTES: In the consolation game last night, Cal rebounded from its defeat to Maryland to trounce Mississippi State, 78-45. The loss was the third straight by a combined 85 points for the Bulldogs, who lost all five starters from last season's Final Four team.
Pub Date: 12/10/96