COLLEGE PARK -- Maryland sophomore Laron Profit opened yesterday's game against American University by knocking down a three-pointer, a noteworthy achievement not because it gave the Terrapins the lead for good, but because it was the last time they would do any damage from that far out.
No. 25 Maryland lived in the paint and at the line for much of the afternoon, and it proved to be a losing combination for the Eagles, who became the Terps' 51st straight nonconference victim at Cole Field House, 81-74, before 13,264.
Sophomore center Obinna Ekezie matched his career high with 19 points, 10 coming on dunks. He slammed lob passes from Rodney Elliott and Sarunas Jasikevicius, gathered a missed layup by Keith Booth for a jam and drove the baseline for another. It seemed the only time he wasn't hurting American (3-6) was when he went to the bench in the second half with four fouls.
"We just ran the regular plays," said Ekezie, who also tied a school record -- shared by five others -- by going 8-for-8 from the field. "[Coach Gary Williams] told me there was nobody in there who could really stop me," the 6-foot-10, 253-pound center said.
"Ekezie is a man," said American coach Chris Knoche after Maryland (8-0) improved on its best start since 1975-76. "He is light years ahead of last year."
One of the former Maryland players who shares the record for shooting percentage is Williams, who made all eight attempts against South Carolina on Dec. 10, 1966. "I got him out of there at the end so he wouldn't get his ninth," Williams joked.
"We really wanted to get the ball inside because he has an advantage. We were a little impatient at times and he got into some foul trouble, but he's really progressed, and it's to his credit. He's the guy who's done the work to get there."
Booth had 14 points, ending a streak of three consecutive games with at least 20. Profit added 13 points, and Elliott posted his first career double double with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
The Terps attacked American's zone in the first half by eschewing the jumper for something closer, drawing an Eagles defender off his feet and threading a pass inside or taking it to the basket. They shot 52 percent from the field, made 12 of 16 free throws, and built a 23-point lead before going into the locker room ahead 43-26.
"The misconception about a zone is it's just designed to keep from going inside," Profit said. "It wants to force you to take quick shots, but you can get inside if you're patient. The [defenders] don't want to move, they're so stationary."
Said Knoche: "You don't see interior passing anymore the way Maryland does it. They are a real pleasure to watch."
Once the second half began, a combination of things started to work against the Terps. American heated up, making seven three-pointers and shooting 50 percent from the field. And the Terps wore down after a hectic nine-day stretch following last Thursday's big win over Georgia Tech that included final exams and practicing at Gallaudet University while their gymnasium was being used for graduation ceremonies.
Though the Terps shot even better from the field in the second half (57.7 percent), their lead was down to 11 points with 2: 13 remaining. American's Dave Small scored 19 of his 20 points in the second half, including two free throws and a jumper from beyond the arc as part of an 8-1 run in the last 34 seconds as the Eagles drew within six. They had lost their previous four games against Maryland by an average of 25 points.
"We felt like we lost a little bit of our focus," Profit said.
Said Williams: "We had a couple chances to put them away and we didn't. When you're playing against a team that shoots threes as part of their offense normally, they don't have to make a lot of changes when they get behind.
"They did a good job of knocking them down, and combined with the fact we didn't play as smart as we normally do in that situation, that allowed them to come back.
"We just couldn't seem to really focus today. It was an emotional night here after Georgia Tech, and right into exams after that. And for about nine days now, we've been hearing how good we are.
"We have to grow a little bit. Fortunately, we got through the growing process today without a loss."
Pub Date: 12/22/96