COLLEGE PARK -- Gary Williams should have been able to enjoy a 15-point win that matched Maryland's best start ever, but he was infuriated with his star and dissatisfied with some of his seniors.
The bar has been raised for the No. 4 Maryland basketball team. The Terps strengthened their hold on second place in the Atlantic Coast Conference with a 77-62 victory over Georgia Tech last night, but it was considerably closer than that, and the coach should have no difficulty getting his team's attention at his next practice.
"When shots are not falling, that's one thing, but we weren't playing as hard as we should," said Williams, who shed his sports coat in a 35-31 first half. "We can't get into that."
The Terps also can't give the opponent bulletin board material like senior center Obinna Ekezie provided sophomore Alvin Jones, or get sloppy with breakaway chances like All-American candidate Steve Francis did when it was a four-point game.
Maryland had another sellout crowd of 14,500 at Cole Field House, and a 50-39 lead, before it resumed its listless ways and fell behind 57-56 with 8: 24 remaining. The Terps outscored the Yellow Jackets 21-5 the rest of the way, but afterward, Williams wasn't talking about the Terps' defense or a superb game by Terence Morris.
Playing for the first time since last Thursday's monumental win at North Carolina, Maryland (17-2, 5-1 in the ACC) wavered with its focus, and Williams had enough early in the first half.
Francis was yanked after his transition opportunity produced nothing. Alone in the open court, he flipped a pass off the backboard to the trailing Laron Profit, who couldn't convert with Jon Babul on his back. Profit lost the ball out of bounds, and Williams sat down Francis with some words of discouragement.
"We got careless a couple of times, and it cost us," said Williams, who took an unsolicited stab at Francis' hijinks. "Where that [the pass off the backboard] came from, I don't know. I think that came from the Kenner League. We can't do that. Those things have to stop. There are never any guarantees."
Francis was a mixture of contrition and defiance afterward.
"I'd throw it again," Francis said of the pass. "I throw that pass every day in practice. I was calling his name [Profit's] the whole way. I'll take the blame for it. I didn't throw it hard enough. He [Williams] had to take me out of the game. I had to come out."
Francis scored 14 points, but 5-foot-10 T. J. Vines hounded him into a 4-for-12 shooting night and a season-high six turnovers, which negated his six assists.
Like Williams, Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins prefers to play straight man-to-man defense, but he started in a 2-3 zone and also used a triangle-and-two. Maryland had its fifth-worst shooting percentage (.429) of the season, and Morris was among the few who appeared comfortable at the offensive end.
The sophomore from Frederick had 20 points on 9-for-15 shooting, 10 rebounds and four steals -- all game highs.
"It's safe to say we don't win without him," Williams said. "Terence's effort was outstanding."
Morris also had two blocks, one a rejection of 7-foot Jason Collier with 4: 06 left when Maryland was in the process of finally putting away Georgia Tech (11-7, 2-4). The Yellow Jackets got their only lead at 58-57 with 8: 24 left on a pair of free throws by Collier, but they had one basket over the next eight minutes.
Morris returned the lead to Maryland for good with a pair of free throws with 8: 13 left. Francis added two free throws; Profit solved the zone with a three-pointer from the right wing; Mike Mardesich scored on a put-back and Profit in transition for a 67-59 spread with 4: 21 left.
Georgia Tech got a free throw from Collier, but Maryland scored 10 unanswered points.
The Terps had a 50-39 lead with 12: 29 left, but the Yellow Jackets went on an 18-6 run to get their only lead before the Terps responded.
"People expect us to blow people out every game," Ekezie said, "but it's just not going to happen."
Ekezie said he was going to attack Jones, who had 12 points and nine rebounds to 10 and 7 for the Terp, who shot 4-for-13. Profit had 15 points, and senior point guard Terrell Stokes had eight points and seven assists. The Terps often seemed uninterested, however, and Williams pointed to his leaders.
"Each game becomes precious, especially when you're a senior," Williams said. "You have to cherish each game like it's your last."
On Sunday, the seniors play their last game at Clemson, where they have never won. Maryland has also never had an 18-2 record, and that's where the Terps would stand with a win there.
NOTES: Francis was yanked for Juan Dixon, who four minutes later lost the ball in transition when he passed to Georgia Tech's Jason Floyd. Dixon did hit his first three-pointer of 1999. Georgia Tech's Ashley Kelly suffered a partially collapsed lung in warm-ups, and spent the night at Adventist Hospital. Official Rick Hartzell warned point guard Tony Akins after he hit a three-pointer and responded to the taunts of Maryland fans.
Next for Terps
Site: Littlejohn Coliseum, Clemson, S.C.
When: Sunday, 4 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)
Pub Date: 1/20/99