COLLEGE PARK — COLLEGE PARK -- They came to Cole Field House last night feeling the aftershock of their worst defeat of the season and, for the first few minutes of their Atlantic Coast Conference game against Florida State, the Maryland Terrapins looked uncertain and uninspired.
After spotting the Seminoles an early 10-point lead, the 10th-ranked Terrapins found themselves with their defense. They went on a huge run in the first half that proved to be the catalyst for their 73-57 victory, and put Florida State away with another run in the second half.
"Every game this time of year is important, but the way things were going for us, this was a must win," said senior forward Keith Booth, who sparked the second-half run and finished with a team-high 17 points, to go along with 11 rebounds.
The victory, only the second for Maryland (19-5, 8-4) in its last five games, moved the Terrapins back in front of Clemson in third place in the ACC. More importantly, it assured a .500 record in the league, historically an automatic qualifier for a spot in what would be a school-record tying fourth straight NCAA tournament.
"I think it's significant to get to eight [wins]," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "That's important. We didn't talk about it, but I'm sure it was in the back of the players' minds."
While a four-day break after Saturday's 80-68 defeat at Clemson had given the Terrapins back their legs, the recent stretch that also included losses to second-ranked Wake Forest as well as to the Seminoles had played on their minds. And their collective confidence.
It showed early on as Florida State (13-8, 4-8) hit seven of its first nine shots to take a 16-6 lead on a three-point shot by senior guard James Collins with 13: 10 left in the first half.
But Maryland came to life, going on a 21-2 run to seemingly take control. Collins would lead all scorers with 24 points.
"After the losses to Clemson and Wake Forest, the players were asked a lot of questions and we had to show we're a good basketball team," Williams said.
But it wasn't until a run midway through the second half that Maryland showed it could put a team away. After extending a 38-27 halftime lead to 15 (44-29) early in the second half, the Terrapins watched as the Seminoles cut their deficit to 55-47 with 12: 21 to go.
With Booth and sophomore center Obinna Ekezie leading the way, Maryland scored 16 of the game's next 19 points.
After fouling out of his team's three recent losses, and playing just 12 minutes against Clemson last week, Ekezie would finish with 15 points and 11 rebounds in 30 minutes.
"I wanted to stay out of foul trouble in the first half and get aggressive in the second half," said Ekezie, who didn't have a foul in the first half and scored 10 of his points after halftime. "We knew we had to get the ball inside and that's what we did."
The Terrapins had a much easier time getting the ball inside because Florida State was without Randell Jackson, a 6-foot-11 sophomore who scored 20 points and had nine rebounds in his team's 74-70 win over Maryland on Jan. 29 in Tallahassee, Fla.
The Terrapins also got 12 points and eight rebounds off the bench from junior forward Rodney Elliott.
"Without Randell Jackson, we just could not afford to get into foul trouble and we did," said Florida State coach Pat Kennedy, ** who saw Jackson's replacement, senior Kirk Luchman, foul out in 15 minutes. "It really hurt us. We lost our aggressiveness and Maryland just kept coming after us. They moved us around and basically manhandled us."
The Terrapins held a 47-31 edge in rebounding. Nearly as important was their free-throw shooting. After having major problems from the line earlier in the season, Maryland seems to have found the answer.
Last night, the Terrapins made their first 13 attempts and 20 of their first 21 before getting sloppy at the end and finishing 24 of 33 overall. Elliott was 8-for-8.
The win takes some pressure off Maryland heading into tomorrow's nonconference game against Massachusetts in Worcester, Mass.
It starts a final stretch that includes four of the last five games for the Terrapins on the road. Their only home game is Feb. 22 against North Carolina.
"It's great to win and to get to eight wins in the league, but you can't relax," Williams said. "We've reached one goal [near-certain NCAA tournament bid] and now we've got to put it aside. We still have a lot of basketball left to play."
NOTES: Booth moved ahead of former prominent Terrapins in three different career categories. He moved ahead of former All-Americans Walt Williams to second (behind Johnny Rhodes) in steals with 176 and Tom McMillen to fifth in rebounds with 864. He also moved into eighth place on the all-time scoring list, moving ahead of former fellow Dunbar graduate Ernie Graham with 1,616. Former star Tony Massenburg, now with the New Jersey Nets, returned to Cole Field House for the first time since graduating in 1990. The Nets play the Washington Bullets
tonight at Baltimore Arena.
................ Conf. Overall
School ......... W-L ..... W-L
Wake Forest ..... 9-2 ... 20-2
Duke ............ 9-3 ... 20-5
Maryland ........ 8-4 ... 19-5
Clemson ......... 7-4 ... 19-5
N. Carolina ..... 6-5 ... 16-6
Virginia ........ 5-7 ... 15-9
Georgia Tech .... 3-8 .... 9-12
Florida State ... 4-8 ... 13-8
N.C. State ...... 1-11 ... 9-12
Virginia at Clemson, noon Maryland vs. UMass at Worcester, Mass., 1: 30
D8 N. Carolina at Ga. Tech, 4 Duke at Fla. State, 7: 30
* N.C. State at W. Forest, 4
Pub Date: 2/14/97