COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Gary Williams experimented and he experimented some more in the backcourt last night, but Maryland still came up short against Missouri, 83-79, in a tight struggle at the loud Hearnes Center.
Williams shuffled Matt Kovarik and Terrell Stokes at point guard and even had both on the court with Sarunas Jasikevicius for one brief stretch in the second half.
But the 20th-ranked Terrapins offense didn't show much continuity no matter who was on the court, and Maryland lost some pride in this Atlantic Coast Conference-Big 12 matchup.
More important for Williams, the Terps (7-4) didn't look as if they were ready to take on 15 straight ACC opponents, beginning with No. 3 Duke on Saturday.
Maryland had better inside players and more talent overall than Missouri, but the Tigers (7-4) played a little smarter and were more aggressive.
Maryland, which led by as many as 10 in the first half, looked as if it was going to make a last-minute comeback when Jasikevicius hit a three-pointer with 53 seconds left and Obinna Ekezie, who matched a career high with 20 points, hit two free throws with 38 seconds left to cut the margin to 80-77.
But Rodney Elliott missed a jump hook in the lane with 23 seconds on the clock and Kovarik fouled out on the rebound, sending Tyron Lee to the free-throw line.
Lee hit both foul shots to give the Tigers a 82-77 lead before Maryland came downcourt and got jammed up in the lane for another turnover.
Maryland led by six early in the second half, but Missouri played inspired basketball in the final 10 minutes before its roaring fans.
"They beat Illinois," Williams said. "They got [Michigan transfer Albert] White. They had home advantage. Yes, I expected Missouri to do this well."
The Terps forced some shots down the stretch, had 22 turnovers in the game and received a combined total of seven points out of Kovarik (five) and Stokes (two).
Kovarik did contribute a career-high eight assists in 24 minutes; Stokes had two in 20 minutes.
In the final minutes, Maryland went inside mostly to Ekezie and Elliott because the Tigers were concentrating on Jasikevicius (18 points and four assists) and fearful of his three-point shooting.
Williams refused to single out Kovarik or Stokes for the Maryland offensive woes, saying, "A lot of it was other players' fault."
Laron Profit had 14 points, a game-high 10 rebounds and five steals, but he turned the ball over four times and was only 5-for-13 from the field.
Highly regarded freshman forward Terence Morris also didn't contribute much, leaving Maryland with more question marks.
But Williams said: "We're fine for the ACC. It was just that we didn't play good defense tonight. Defense is funny. It's a matter of wanting it, and I guess we didn't tonight. We gave them too many easy shots at the end."
In fact, Missouri's 50.9 percent shooting was the best of the season against Maryland.
Freshman guard Brian Grawer led five Missouri players in double figures with 15 points.
Grawer, listed at 6 feet but looking more like 5-8, hurt Maryland with key three-pointers.
At the beginning of the game, while Missouri struggled, Grawer hit two three-pointers that helped get the Tigers, and the crowd, back into the game.
"Grawer did a good job," Williams said. "His first threes probably helped him. They surprised us."
Overall, Missouri was eight of 18 in three-pointers to five of 12 for Maryland.
After winning his fourth straight, Missouri coach Norm Stewart said: "Heck of a game for everybody. Anytime you can beat a ranked team, you're doing something, and we did it with Albert White out of the game for more than six minutes at the end with five fouls."
For Maryland, it was a long flight back to College Park last night.
Williams said: "I'll think about Duke on the flight home."
Pub Date: 12/31/97