COLLEGE PARK -- This one was different. There was a sellout crowd at Cole Field House and an Atlantic Coast Conference opponent on the court. Maryland didn't merely play as well last night as it had in its first six games.
The Terrapins played even better.
They built a 20-point lead on Georgia Tech in the first half, saw it grow to 24 midway through the second half and then withstood a late run by the Yellow Jackets to preserve an impressive 77-63 victory.
The win was the seventh without a defeat for Maryland (7-0, 1-0 in the ACC) and another important step in what has been an amazing start for a team picked to finish near the bottom of its league.
Senior forward Keith Booth continued his season-long push for national recognition, outplaying All-American Matt Harpring. Booth finished with 24 points and six rebounds, while Harpring scored 21 points.
Maryland had four players in double figures. Sophomore guard Laron Profit rebounded from a four-point game against George Washington to score 18, including some Jordanesque flights to the basket. Junior forward Rodney Elliott scored 12 points for the second straight game, along with six rebounds. Sophomore guard Terrell Stokes had 10 points.
"I am really happy for these guys," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, whose team will now have a nine-day break for final exams before a Dec. 21 home game against American. "They really worked hard for this. We want to continue to work hard and we have to continue to get better."
If the Terrapins want to use a measuring stick for near-perfection, particularly on defense, they need to look no further than the first 20 minutes last night.
They scored the game's first seven points and went on to build leads of 18-2, 23-4 and 27-7.
"That was an unbelievable feeling," said Profit, who played a major part in that early run and wound up hitting seven of eight shots on a variety of dunks, three-pointers and one unbelievable reverse scoop along the baseline, while putting a clamp on Harpring at the defensive end. "I don't think the Bulls could have scored on our defense."
Maryland led by as many as 20 points on four occasions in the first half, the last time at 36-16 after a three-point play by Booth with a little more than three minutes remaining. The Terrapins led at halftime, 37-22. They started the second half as they started the game, building their lead up to as much as 64-40 with 9: 08 to play.
"The first half we were running around like we didn't know what we were doing," said Harpring, who wound up missing 11 of 18 shots, including seven of eight threes, for a team that shot a dismal 23 of 59 and committed 20 turnovers. "It's too bad we fell so far behind because we could have made a run at them."
In losing its second straight game, Georgia Tech (4-2, 0-1) woke up a little too late. Behind Harpring and the long-range shooting of freshman point guard Kevin Morris (14 points on 4-for-8 from three-point range), the Yellow Jackets cut their deficit to 11 points with a little less than three minutes left.
But Profit hit a leaning jumper over Harpring with 1: 56 to go -- the basket came after the Terrapins were given an extra 21 seconds on the 35-second clock by the officials -- and Maryland never looked back. Georgia Tech never got it closer than 10 points, 73-63, with 35 seconds to go.
"This is the kind of start you hope for, but you don't expect," said Williams. "We were able to score early and maintain our aggressive defense. The hardest thing to do is coach with an early lead, especially when the players are not used to being in that situation."
The victory gave the Terrapins their best start since the 1975-76 season, when they began the year with 11 straight wins. It seems likely that Williams' team could move into the Top 25 next week. The Terrapins were tied for 30th this week and beat a team, George Washington, that was ranked 26th going into the week.
Asked to compare the start this team has had to others he has coached, Williams said, "I've coached some pretty good teams at American, Boston College and here. So far we've gotten results."
NOTES: New Maryland football coach Ron Vanderlinden was introduced to a standing ovation at halftime. Vanderlinden told the crowd, "Enjoy the Christmas holiday at home because it's my hope that it's the last one you'll have."
Pub Date: 12/13/96