GREENSBORO, N.C. -- So much for the momentum they seemingly had seized with Friday's 15-point victory over Clemson in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. So much for the grand opportunity they were presented with in a semifinal opponent they had beaten twice during the regular season.
And so much for playing in their first ACC tournament final in 13 years.
With so much going for them yesterday at the Greensboro
Coliseum against eighth-seeded North Carolina State, the Maryland Terrapins gave so little in return. So little execution on offense in the first half. So little defensive intensity in the second half. And so little toughness throughout a 65-58 loss that left them searching again for answers headed into the NCAA tournament.
The Wolfpack possessed everything the fifth-seeded, 22nd-ranked Terrapins did not in continuing its string of stirring upsets. In reaching the ACC tournament championship game for the first time in 10 seasons -- and becoming the first eighth seed ever to do so -- N.C. State (16-13) played a near-perfect second half. Though the odds remain staggering, a victory today will put the ACC's version of "Hoosiers" into the NCAA tournament with an automatic bid.
"N.C. State is playing really well, you've got to give them a lot of credit," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, whose Terrapins lost to the Wolfpack for the first time in seven games. "Not many teams would have hung in there like they had when they lost early in the conference. They're a good basketball team. It's very difficult to play them right now. I don't think we played as well as we could, but once again you've got to look at N.C. State and how they affected us."
Said first-year N.C. State coach Herb Sendek, whose Wolfpack will face third-seeded, fifth-ranked North Carolina in the final: "I think what we've got is a group of guys who are very focused, very together and are playing very hard. I can't explain it other than to say that our guys are digging as deep as they can."
Just playing the Wolfpack apparently affected the Terrapins adversely. Though they would not go as far as to say they took N.C. State lightly, Williams talked about how his players did not go into the game with the right mental attitude. It carried over onto the court, where Maryland stopped itself with sloppiness and couldn't contain a team that starts four guards and barely goes to its bench.
The Terrapins committed 11 turnovers in the first 12 minutes and finished the afternoon with 21, many of them unforced. In turn, they forced only 11 against a team that turned the ball over 24 times at Cole Field House last month. They watched a 25-20 halftime lead and a 27-20 lead early in the second half turn into a 38-31 deficit. And when they had a chance to make things interesting, they missed some crucial free throws.
After failing to score on its first three possessions of the second half, the Wolfpack scored on 19 of its last 27. Junior forward C. C. Harrison, who led N.C. State to its quarterfinal upset of regular-season champion and seventh-ranked Duke, continued his magic against Maryland. Harrison finished with a game-high 24 points, including back-to-back backdoor layups that virtually sealed the victory.
"The backdoor plays, they shouldn't be there," said Williams, fTC
who immediately pulled Laron Profit after the sophomore guard got burned on both plays that helped the Wolfpack build a 53-46 lead with 3: 32 to go. "They're good plays, but we knew the plays. We just made mistakes defensively. I didn't think it was our strongest mental game."
Except for Keith Booth, who led the Terrapins with 22 points on 8-for-12 shooting, Maryland barely showed up. Guards Terrell Stokes and Sarunas Jasikevicius combined to miss nine of 10 shots while scoring just four points and committed nine turnovers. Profit, who spent some time at point guard, overcame a horrendous start to finish with 11 points and eight rebounds, but his defensive lapses were disastrous.
And then there was Obinna Ekezie. After a dominating 21-point, 10-rebound, three-blocked shot performance against a bigger, more physical team in Clemson, the 6-10 sophomore center played well when he was on the court to finish with 12 points, seven rebounds and three blocks. But the smaller, pesky Wolfpack forced him into four turnovers and forced Williams to go with a smaller lineup. Ekezie wound up playing only 11 minutes in the second half.
"That was the coach's decision," Ekezie said. "He felt we needed to go with a smaller lineup. I'm not going to question his decision."
Said Williams: "It didn't work, but we had to try some things to get us going."
Every move Maryland made seemed to backfire, including fouling little-used N.C. State backup center Luke Buffum with 2: 15 to go and the Wolfpack ahead 55-49. Buffum, a redshirt sophomore who had made just three of nine from the free-throw line this season, swished both attempts. After the Terrapins climbed within 57-53, with 1: 20 to go, Profit failed to foul freshman point guard Justin Gainey. Senior forward Jeremy Hyatt then hit a running off-balance 12-footer in the lane with 47 seconds left in the game and three ticks left on the 35-second clock.
Asked how much effect emotions had on the outcome, Profit said: "Emotions can carry you only so far. When you go on the court, it comes down to Xs and Os. Their Xs were better than our Os."
And certainly better than Maryland's D, which could stand for defense or perhaps desire. It is something that the Terps will have to work on before they begin playing in the NCAA tournament. Making its fourth straight NCAA tournament, Maryland is expected to be a fourth seed when the bids are announced this evening. Profit seemed to sum up the feeling of his teammates when it came to finishing their ACC season.
"I think we're all right," Profit said. "This conference is just unbelievable. It'll feel so great to play somebody else. It'll be so nice to see another uniform other than North Carolina's blue or North Carolina State's red . I wouldn't mind playing a Kansas or a Kentucky or even a University of Antarctica. I'll be so happy, I might kiss somebody."
Whoever the opponent, if the Terrapins play the way they did yesterday, they might kiss something else -- their still wonderful season goodbye.
Maryland's backcourt of Terrell Stokes and Sarunas Jasikevicius made big contributions in Friday's win over Clemson, but the scoring of both fell off in yesterday's loss to N.C. State:
Player .. .. .. Fri. .. Sat.
Stokes .. .. ... 17 ... .. 3
Jasikevicius ... 14 ... .. 1
Totals .. .. ... 31 ... .. 4
Pub Date: 3/09/97