HONOLULU -- With seven NBA scouts watching from courtside, including Los Angeles Lakers general manager Jerry West, Maryland senior co-captain Keith Booth gave them a number of solid reasons to consider him on draft day next spring.
The former Baltimore Dunbar star continued to display his team leadership in scoring 25 points -- 16 in the second half -- and grabbing seven rebounds last night as the Terps held on to beat surprisingly stubborn Pitt, 66-63, in the opening round of the Rainbow Classic.
No. 21 Maryland, now 10-0 and only a victory short of the school record of 11 straight to start the season by the 1975-1976 Terps, tomorrow night will play Hawaii, a 79-62 victor over Northwestern in the nightcap last night.
But the opener was too close for comfort. Trailing in the final seconds by three points, Pitt (5-6) could not work a man free for a tying three-point shot. Instead, guard Kevin Willard, the son of coach Ralph Willard, missed an off-balance driving shot, trying to draw a foul.
Junior forward Rodney Elliott, another Dunbar product, grabbed the last of his game-high 12 rebounds to seal the victory.
The Panthers kept constant pressure on the Terps mainly on the brilliant shooting of senior guard Jason Maile, who finished with a career-high 29 points, including 7-for-9 on three-pointers.
"Maile came out flying in the first half when he got 21 points," said Maryland coach Gary Williams. "We allowed him too many open shots. But we did a much better job defending him in the second half. He got only one open shot with Laron Profit guarding him most of the time."
Profit also scored 11 of his 13 points in the second half to help the Terps overcome a 38-32 halftime deficit.
"Laron is a sophomore, and sometimes he doesn't come out ready to play," said Williams. "But when he starts coming out strong every day, he'll be an exceptional player."
Williams had warned his unbeaten team not to take Pitt lightly.
"I knew they would really come after us after winning their last four," he said. "We were real flat in the first half, but we showed a lot of pride the way we played in the second half.
"Give a lot of credit to Booth and Elliott, who has really played the 'sixth man' role for us all season."
Still, Pitt trailed by only a point (59-58), when the Terps scored six straight, the last two on a tip by Elliott, to give them just enough of a cushion to survive the Panthers' final rally.
Both teams had trouble running their offenses against pressure defenses in the opening minutes. Maryland managed only one shot after three minutes -- a missed layup by center Obinna Ekezie -- and had five turnovers.
The Panthers led 12-6 after six minutes when the Terps got their fast break in gear and went on a 10-0 tear.
But Maryland could not stop Maile, who hit his fifth three-pointer of the first half to give Pitt a 30-28 edge. A minute later, the senior guard hit a jumper to give him 21 of his team's first 36 points.
By this time, Williams had tried four different defenders on Maile -- Booth, Terrell Stokes, Sarunas Jasikevicius and finally reserve Matt Kovarik.
But Pitt had problems getting started in the second half. Maryland stepped up its defense and scored the first 10 points -- seven by Booth -- to forge a 42-38 lead with 15: 45 remaining.
But Maile soon hit his sixth three-pointer to push Pitt in front, 43-42.
In fact, the first three-point shot he missed was launched from somewhere near Pearl Harbor.
The Terps responded with a 6-0 run capped by Booth's breakaway slam. It gave the senior co-captain 20 points in the first 30 minutes.
The seesaw pattern continued as Kellii Taylor and Maile combined for five straight Pitt points to produce a 48-48 tie. But Maryland used a pair of three-pointers by Profit and another by Jasikevicius to gain a 59-51 advantage with seven minutes left.
xTC But the Terps could not put the Panthers away. Mark Blount, a 7-footer, scored on a tip-in and Taylor on a breakaway.
Booth was then stripped of the ball and Willard made a three-pointer to pull Pitt within 59-58.
Maryland widened the gap to 65-58 on two free throws by Profit, a baseline dunk by Booth and a putback by Elliott with 2: 35 left.
Pub Date: 12/28/96