COLLEGE PARK -- Steve Francis said it is just another game.
Terrell Stokes knows better.
No. 2 Maryland plays at Cole Field House for the first time in 10 days tonight (8, chs. 54, 9) against Wake Forest, and it won't be like the record-setting romp the Terps had in their opener against Western Carolina or the pounding they put on No. 20 Pittsburgh at the Puerto Rico Shootout.
This is different. This is the Atlantic Coast Conference, where familiarity breeds close finishes. Even if coach Dave Odom is dealing with a season-ending injury that has disrupted his young team, the Terps know the Demon Deacons will spring something on them.
While Francis, the junior-college transfer who is averaging 15.0 points, said, "I look at it as just another game," Stokes took a sterner view.
"Of course it's different," said the senior point guard who leads Maryland in assists and steals. "ACC games are so intense, the No. 1 team can lose to No. 9 on any given night. Each possession counts in the ACC. There are so many good players, so many good teams. We're a marked team, but even if we weren't ranked No. 2, Wake Forest would still be coming after us."
Maryland (7-0) should want to get after Wake Forest (6-1) more than the Demon Deacons want to get after the Terps. Stokes and fellow seniors Obinna Ekezie and Laron Profit have never beaten Wake Forest at Cole. The Demon Deacons swept the Terps last year, by 12 in Winston-Salem and by six here, after Wake Forest nearly blew a 19-point lead.
The Terps have since won 10 straight regular-season games. Odom knows the tendencies of a Gary Williams team, but has never seen one like the assemblage that has placed Maryland a heartbeat away from the nation's top ranking, the first time the Terps have been ranked that high since 1976.
"I watched Maryland on TV from my home," Odom said of Saturday's rapid destruction of Pittsburgh. "I've got a great leather chair, and the seat hadn't gotten warm in the time it took for that game to go from 10-7 to 30-7. I have never seen a good team taken apart so quickly. That's the most incredible performance I've ever seen."
The Terps' average margin of victory is 37.1 points, and the Demon Deacons' is 10.8. Wake Forest has faced second-half deficits in six of its seven games, and lost only to Temple in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. The Demon Deacons were even down at VMI on Tuesday night.
"We're not at the top of our game," said Odom, whose roster is top-heavy with highly regarded freshmen and sophomores. "I'm not accustomed to having that many players at this level of ability. I usually pick seven players and spot an eighth or ninth. I've tried to use 11 players, and I haven't been able to discern which seven or eight to use."
One of his options was taken away at VMI, where sophomore forward Niki Arinze, who led the Demon Deacons in career starts, reinjured his left shoulder. He will undergo arthroscopic surgery later this month and will not return this season. Joseph Amonett, Wake Forest's only senior, will start in his place.
Robert O'Kelley, last season's ACC Rookie of the Year, has taken 41 three-pointers and is averaging 16.4 points. A rookie class of five freshmen includes Broderick Hicks, one of the few true point guards Odom has recruited to Wake Forest. Hicks is playing only 16 minutes a game, and O'Kelley is splitting time between shooting and point guard.
Wake Forest has won six of the past seven meetings with Maryland. Whether they have revolved around a national Player of the Year like Tim Duncan or a solid guard like O'Kelley who can put it up, the Demon Deacons have owned the Terps.
"I really want to play this game," Stokes said. "Wake beat us twice last year. You don't want anyone coming into your home and beating you."
Opponent: Wake Forest
Site: Cole Field House, College Park
TV/Radio: Chs. 54, 9/WBAL (1090 AM)
Line: Maryland by 19
Wake's hat trick
Wake Forest is the only opponent to have beaten Maryland at Cole Field House each of the past three seasons:
Date .. .. .. .. .. .. Score
Feb. 15, 1996 .. .. .. 85-78
Feb. 1, 1997 .. .. ... 74-69
Feb. 19, 1998 .. .. .. 83-79
Pub Date: 12/03/98