The Terps were bummed about blowing their Atlantic Coast Conference opener, and also by the fact that it was a reprise of a loss to South Carolina. Two ranked opponents, two wasted leads, two overtimes, so it was with fear and loathing that Williams saw Kansas wipe away all of a 15-point Maryland cushion yesterday.
"After those two games, Clemson and South Carolina, if we had lost this one, we'd be in shock right now," Williams said.
There is still concern about Maryland's condition, because Williams had to pull his players down from the ceiling after an 86-83 conquest of the Jayhawks in the semifinals of the Franklin National Bank Classic.
The Terps must return to the floor at MCI Center at 8: 30 tonight for the championship game against George Washington.
The Maryland win could resonate into March, when the selection committee not only decides who gets into the NCAA tournament, but which at-large team gets a fifth seed and who gets stuck with a ninth. That ramification is nice, but the Terps needed something for the here and now.
They got it, in front of a partisan crowd and a national television audience.
The Jayhawks might be a different team when LSU transfer Lester Earl becomes eligible and starts at center, or when they're not traveling as much as an NBA team, but it's still Kansas.
No. 2 Kansas. The Kansas that had never failed to get to the final of one of these early-season tournaments in 10 years under coach Roy Williams.
The Jayhawks have Raef La-Frentz and Paul Pierce, the most celebrated pair of forwards in college basketball. Maryland? The Terps rely heavily on Laron Profit and Rodney Elliott, but their top two scorers fouled out, and there were several monster possessions at the end when Maryland teamed three guards with two freshmen.
"This is the biggest thing that has ever happened to me," 7-footer Mike Mardesich said. "I haven't played in a lot of big games like this. My emotions are running wild."
Kansas (8-1) has been there, done that. The Jayhawks' only other non-conference loss in their past 45 games came at the hands of Arizona in the third round of last year's NCAA tournament.
No one had beaten them this season, when their list of victims included the defending national-champion Wildcats, UNLV, Arizona State and Florida State.
No. 23 Maryland (4-2) wasn't exactly buoyed by three expected wins, but Profit said that Kansas was "the best therapy" for the funk the team was in after Clemson.
The Terps took control during three inspired minutes of the first half, when they scored 18 unanswered points to gain a lead they would never lose.
The spread reached 56-41 on Obinna Ekezie's basket to start the second half.
Maryland was up eight with less than seven minutes left, but the Jayhawks rallied for two ties and Billy Thomas launched a long-range three at the final buzzer that would have forced an overtime.
Kansas was in that predicament because Maryland got two free throws from junior point guard Terrell Stokes with 1.9 seconds left.
That's the same Stokes who faltered down the stretch at Clemson. Before the foul was called, there was a second when it appeared as if Stokes might be charged with a turnover, but the Terps got their happy ending.
Maryland made just three baskets in the last 13 minutes and struggled with its free-throw shooting, but at least it kept pounding the ball inside and going to the line. With Elliott missing the last four minutes and Profit the last two, what recourse did the Terps have?
"Last year, if we lost Keith Booth, we would have been in trouble," Williams said. "We've tried to spread the leadership around, and that helped when we lost two explosive players."
If the second half was about survival for the Terps, the first was pure pleasure. The key statistic in what Williams called "the best 20 minutes we've played in a long time" was 16 Kansas turnovers, as Maryland prospered with its pressure.
Sarunas Jasikevicius and Elliott both had 21 points, and the senior from Dunbar ignited the 18-0 run with two three-pointers and a shorter turnaround jumper. Profit punctuated it with a steal and a dunk.
Pierce and LaFrentz, who combined for 50 points, willed Kansas back into the game, but Maryland, which at one point was 17-for-31 from the line, finally found a touch there. Jasikevicius, Mardesich, Ekezie and, finally, Stokes, all made big free throws at the end, when Kansas kept coming over the back.
"He [Pierce] didn't play very well, but then again, I didn't coach well," Roy Williams said. "I couldn't find a single thing I'm pleased with."
The analysis was different on the other side. Ekezie likened it to last year's win at Wake Forest, when the Demon Deacons were No. 2. Matt Kovarik, a fifth-year senior who played 13 minutes off the bench, mentioned beating North Carolina when it was No. 1 in 1994-95.
If Maryland wants the feeling to last, it must forget Kansas.
Just like the Terps forgot about Clemson.
Pub Date: 12/08/97