WASHINGTON -- Besides having one of the nation's best basketball teams, No. 2 Maryland is also a quick study.
In Sunday's semifinals of the BB&T; Classic at the MCI Center, the Terps survived a lesson in power basketball by Stanford. In last night's championship game against DePaul, Maryland displayed what it had learned, as it went to the basket and beat the smaller Blue Demons, 92-75.
"Our game plan was to go inside, and it paid off," said tournament Most Valuable Player Steve Francis. "We knew we were bigger than DePaul, and we wanted to go to the basket and get to the free-throw line. Even our guards went to the basket."
With Terrell Stokes directing a focused attack, Maryland took one three-pointer in the first 19 minutes, that a hasty one by Francis. On a night when defense was frequently a formality, the Terps got 22 points on 10-for-11 shooting by sophomore forward Terence Morris, 15 from Laron Profit and 14 from Francis.
The Terps built a 29-11 lead in the 12th minute, saw it shrink to three early in the second half and were ahead by only 57-53 with 14: 15 left. They held DePaul without a basket over the next six minutes and led 68-54 after a decisive 11-1 run that featured freshman guard Juan Dixon and left Maryland 10-0 for only the third time in its history.
"There was a period in the first half when we thought we had the game won prematurely," coach Gary Williams said. "So we relaxed a little bit, and gave DePaul some confidence."
It was Maryland's second tournament championship in 10 days and maintained the Terps' record as the only unbeaten team in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
While Maryland remained behind only Connecticut when the Associated Press updated its rankings yesterday, DePaul (5-2) received votes for the first time in five seasons. They didn't make the Top 25, but the Blue Demons' point total (53) had them rated the 33rd-best team in the land.
It was easy for Maryland to get up for No. 6 Stanford, harder to get there against DePaul, as the MCI Center was half-empty at the opening tip en route to a crowd of 18,244. Five veterans were motivated by last year's final, when they lost to George Washington a day after an upset of then-No. 2 Kansas.
"We just came out a little flat," said Morris, whose 22 tied his career high.
Maryland's inability to seal off the defensive board -- DePaul had 21 second chances -- aided the Blue Demons' comeback, which featured 28 points from Quentin Richardson, the main name in one of the nation's premier freshman classes. Classmates Lance Williams (16) and Bobby Simmons (13) helped DePaul's freshman front line get 57 points.
The Terps have some rookie power of their own, and Dixon, the Calvert Hall product with a thin frame and a thick game, scored the last seven points in the telling spurt. In between four free throws, Dixon knocked down a big three-pointer from the right wing with 9: 25 left, only the Terps' third long-distance connection.
That stretch began with a strong rebound by Francis that triggered a 3-on-2 break, with Francis feeding Morris for a slam.
DePaul trimmed the difference to 79-70 with a little more than three minutes left, but the Terps made their free throws down the stretch. Senior center Obinna Ekezie made just two of his nine shots, but he went 8-for-10 at the free throw line, where Maryland outscored DePaul 25-15.
None of DePaul's freshmen appear to require a razor for their daily grooming, and the Terps attacked an opponent that came out soft. Maryland posted up everyone except Stokes early, as the Blue Demons were unable to put up much of a defensive front.
Unfortunately, neither were the Terps after their motion and second chances fueled a 14-2 roll that built that 29-11 lead with 7: 20 left in the half. DePaul then hit its offensive board and rallied behind the precocious forward tandem of Richardson and Simmons, to trim the difference to 43-35 at the half.
"To cut them down to four [points] in their back yard, that says a lot about our team," DePaul coach Pat Kennedy said.
Thus far, the Terps have played five games at Cole Field House and five at tournaments. They hit the road for real Saturday, when they go to No. 5 Kentucky, the defending NCAA champions.
"They don't lose much down there," Williams said. His team hasn't lost anywhere.
The top five
A look at the Associated Press' top five:
No. School ... (W-L) .. .. .. 1st* .. .. .. .. Pts.
1. UConn .. .. (6-0) .. ... .. 53 .. .. .. ... 1,754
2. Maryland . (10-0) .. .. ... 17 .. .. .. ... 1,715
3. Duke .. .. .(7-1) .. .. ... -- .. .. .. ... 1,599
4. Cincinnati .(5-0) .. .. .. . 1 .. .. .. ... 1,555
5. Kentucky .. (7-1) .. .. . . -- .. .. .. ... 1,463
Pub Date: 12/08/98