COLLEGE PARK -- After more than 39 minutes yesterday at Cole Field House, it came down to Tim Duncan and Keith Booth. There they were, standing near the three-point line to the left of the Maryland basket, the clock ticking away, the crowd going crazy, the game on the line.
With Duncan out of sync, Booth had dominated the first half, helping the fifth-ranked Terrapins to a 16-point lead at one juncture and a 12-point lead at halftime. With Booth on the bench, Duncan was unstoppable in the second half, bringing the second-ranked Demon Deacons the lead.
There were about 15 seconds left when Booth, his team behind by two points, started his drive. There were about 10 seconds remaining when the 6-foot-6 senior got a step on Duncan and took a shot in traffic. There were a little over eight seconds left when Duncan was fouled after grabbing the rebound.
Duncan's two free throws clinched victory and freshman Loren Woods added a subsequent foul shot to seal a 74-69 decision for Wake Forest. That final sequence between perhaps the two best players in the Atlantic Coast Conference summed up Maryland's second straight defeat.
"I tried to drive to the basket to score or draw the foul," said Booth, who would finish with 22 points, all of them coming before he picked up his fourth personal with a little more than 10 minutes left. "It just didn't fall and he got the rebound."
Said Duncan: "I got help from Ricky [Peral] on that play, but I think I got a piece of the ball, too. It was great team defense and we forced him into a tough shot."
The way the game played out between Maryland (17-4, 6-3 ACC) and Wake Forest (18-1, 8-1) was remarkably similar to the first meeting in Winston-Salem, N.C., two weeks ago, a game won by the Terrapins, 54-51, on Laron Profit's three-pointer at the buzzer.
But there were differences aside from the outcome. After not touching the ball much early in the first half, then having trouble when he caught it later on, Duncan took over the game in the second half. The 6-10 senior All- American scored 25 of his game-high 29 points, pulled down eight of his game-high 15 rebounds and had two of his three blocked shots after intermission.
And just as Peral's weak-side defense helped Duncan on the game's most important possession, his reputation as college basketball's best player certainly enabled him to turn Maryland -- in particular Booth and Obinna Ekezie -- virtually defenseless inside.
Ekezie fouled out in a season-low 15 minutes, nine fewer than he played in fouling out against Duncan Jan. 19. It was also the second straight game in which he fouled out for the Terrapins, following Wednesday's disqualification in the 74-70 loss at Florida State.
"It's ridiculous," said Ekezie, who picked up his first two fouls in the first 5 1/2 minutes, 17 seconds apart, and his third with 8: 08 left in the first half, 25 seconds after entering the game. "If you're going to play basketball, make it fair. [The third foul] was a clean block.
"Just give me a chance. He fouled me down there in the second half and they didn't call anything. You can't give him everything. Give me a chance to play defense. Once you pick up three quick fouls, you can't even move your feet. You can't touch him. You can't breathe on him."
Despite Ekezie's absence for most of the first half, Maryland still managed to take a 39-23 lead with a little over three minutes left and led at halftime, 43-31. If the big leads for the Terrapins were reminiscent of the first meeting -- they led by 19 in the first half and by 12 at halftime -- so was Wake Forest's second-half comeback.
This time, the Demon Deacons didn't run off 16 straight points to start the second half, only 10. Considering their foul trouble, it was remarkable that the Terrapins didn't get run over. Four of their top seven players -- Booth, Ekezie, Profit and reserve Matt Kovarik -- all had four fouls with 10 minutes left.
"The key was in the beginning of the second half," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, whose team's pressure defense had forced the Demon Deacons into 15 first-half turnovers. "We didn't do much to stop Wake Forest. We let Tim Duncan catch the ball too close to the basket. We didn't pass the ball very well. When we got into foul trouble, we got less aggressive at both ends of the floor. We became a perimeter-shooting team."
Asked about the disparity of fouls -- Duncan had only one while playing all 40 minutes -- Williams declined to comment. "I'm not allowed to talk about it. I have to be a little careful right now," said the Maryland coach, mindful of his ejection in Tallahassee.
Remarkably, the Terrapins never relinquished the lead during a five-minute stretch despite a lineup that included freshman guard Kelly Hite and sophomore forward Brian Watkins. Hite had never played in an ACC game before yesterday and Watkins, a transfer from Notre Dame, had played a total of 23 minutes in his six previous ACC games.
Hite's steal and subsequent layup gave Maryland a 58-53 lead with a little over 11 minutes left.
"I thought they were very valuable to us," said Williams.
But certainly not as valuable as Booth or Profit would have been. They eventually returned with 3: 31 remaining, right after Rodney Elliott had erased Wake Forest's first lead since the early minutes with a baseline jumper to put Maryland back ahead, 67-66.
After each team missed shots, junior guard Tony Rutland made his first jumper of the second half, a tough 17-footer from the corner, to put the Demon Deacons up for good. Booth missed a 15-footer and, after Woods, a 7-footer, controlled the rebound of a Peral miss, Duncan scored inside.
"He's the best big man in the country," said Williams. "You know it's a matter of time before he asserts himself. We didn't do a good job when he asserted himself."
Wake Forest coach Dave Odom, whose own frustration with the officiating led to a first-half technical, was asked about the difference between halves for Duncan.
"Part of it was him not getting the ball, part of it was us not getting him the ball and part of it was Maryland's defense," said Odom. "It was a three-part thing."
Actually, it was a four-part thing.
Just ask Obinna Ekezie.
NOTES: Maryland coach Williams will appear on the "ABC Scoreboard" show (Channel 2) today sometime between 3: 30 p.m. and 6 p.m. Letha Smith, mother of former Terps star Joe Smith, attended the game.
Pub Date: 2/02/97