Terps' magnificent seven defies ACC law of averages

THE BALTIMORE SUN

COLLEGE PARK -- Go ahead, pick a hero.

As usual with Maryland, it's no easy task.

The list starts with Obinna Ekezie, who drew a charge from Duke's Steve Wojciechowski with 2.2 seconds left to seal nTC yesterday's 74-70 victory.

But it also must include Keith Booth, who played the final 7: 33 with four fouls and contributed a huge basket down the stretch.

And it would be incomplete without Sarunas Jasikevicius and Laron Profit, who connected on two electrifying alley-oops to give Maryland the lead for good.

See, it's never just one guy with this team, never just Booth or Profit, never just a hot shooter or a monster rebounder or hellacious defender.

It's all of them, all 94 feet, all the time.

Eleven years ago, the Terps were built around Len Bias. Five years ago, around Walt Williams. Two years ago, around Joe Smith.

This team is Booth's team. Yet for all his virtues, he isn't a dominant All-American or a future NBA lottery pick.

No, Booth is simply one of seven -- the most important one, to be sure, but lest we forget, he shot 2-for-14 when the Terps upset Wake Forest.

Yesterday?

Profit scored a team-high 16 points, Booth and Jasikevicius added 15 each and Rodney Elliott contributed 11 off the bench.

That's Maryland -- four players in double figures, and as Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski noted, four with 100 or more rebounds.

You keep wondering when this spectacular run will end, when the law of averages will take over and the Terps will start losing their fair share in the ACC.

Maybe this week, when the Terps visit red-hot Florida State on Wednesday, then play host to revenge-minded Wake Forest on Saturday.

But not yesterday, against a coach Gary Williams had never beaten in the regular season.

And maybe not all season, if Maryland maintains its remarkable cohesiveness, with one player producing, then another and another.

"We're not Cinderellas any more," Profit said. "Cinderella is turning a little. She's a beautiful princess right now.

"Yeah, yeah, we want the East Regional," he said, joking.

Williams knows how competitive the league is, how vulnerable Wake Forest suddenly appears, how dangerous Florida State is on its home court.

Still, Maryland rallied from 22 points down at North Carolina, withstood a 16-0 run by Wake and now has overcome its biggest ACC nemesis.

That's an entire season of magic, right there.

Yesterday, the Terps took a 53-45 lead with 9: 58 left, then lost it in a matter of two minutes, with Duke hitting three after three.

But did they fold?

Not a chance.

In the second half, they hit 12 of 18 shots, 14 of 17 free throws and all three of their three-point attempts.

And remember, foul shooting and three-point shooting hadn't been their strengths.

With all that, it still came down to the last 15.4 seconds, and one last chance for Duke to tie the score.

Maryland had just failed to get a goaltending call that Williams later conceded was the right decision by the officials.

And now here came Wojciechowski, dribbling frantically, trying to penetrate, finally plowing into Ekezie.

The sophomore from Nigeria didn't even start playing basketball until five years ago. Now, he's making game-saving plays in the ACC.

Booth said afterward that Williams is constantly asking Ekezie, "When are you going to step in and take a charge?"

Ekezie replies, "I'll step in when it counts."

And yesterday, for the first time this season, he did.

Heck, Ekezie was so confident in his positioning, he said he wasn't even worried the call might go the other way.

"He hit me straight-on," Ekezie said. "I know. I was there."

Ekezie unveiled a surprisingly quick spin move on the baseline yesterday, finishing with nine points and six rebounds. But again, he was just one part.

Terrell Stokes made two free throws with 1: 03 left, kept his composure against Duke's stifling half-court defense and drained a three-pointer to tie the score just when it appeared the Blue Devils might make a late run.

And Elliott, the unsung hero of this team, provided a major lift in the first half when Maryland couldn't hit a shot.

It's not just one of them, it's all of them.

Krzyzewski noticed.

"They seem to be in great shape. They've had continuity. They know each other. They play really hard together," he said.

"I don't think they've had many disruptions -- a kid getting hurt, things like that. They're great kids with one goal in mind."

That goal is victory.

Pick a hero?

Can't be done.

Pub Date: 1/27/97

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