UM bench stands up, is counted; Reserves give Terps big lift in 107-87 win over Florida State; Mardesich, Dixon: 10 each; Ekezie scores 22; ACC run reaches 6


COLLEGE PARK -- No. 4 Maryland got one basket and a total of 25 minutes out of its bench in an overtime ordeal at Clemson on Sunday, and afterward coach Gary Williams kicked himself for not getting his top four reserves more action.

Three freshmen and sophomore Mike Mardesich got a greater chance last night against Florida State, and made the most of it.

The Terps stumbled around with the Seminoles for 15 minutes before an antsy crowd of 14,500 at Cole Field House, but then a burst of energy in the form of Maryland substitutes built a 12-point lead that snowballed into a 107-87 victory over the surprise team in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

"That's the best game we [the reserves] have had in the ACC," said Juan Dixon, the rookie guard out of Calvert Hall. "We were flying around out there, and that's what we were doing at the beginning of the season."

It was the sixth straight conference victory for Maryland (19-2, 7-1). Only once before, near the close of the 1973-74 sea son, have the Terps won seven straight in the ACC, and they can reach that milestone again on Sunday at Wake Forest.

Florida State (11-8, 5-3) lost for the sixth straight time at Cole Field House. It was the first time in five seasons the Terps went over 100 points in a conference game. Both teams pushed the pace, and the home team's depth left the Seminoles behind.

The usual suspects had the big numbers for Maryland. Junior guard Steve Francis scored 21 points, sophomore forward Terence Morris finished with 16, and senior center Obinna Ekezie had 16 of his 22 in the second half. Were it not for its reserves, however, Maryland might have had to sweat out the second half.

Mardesich and freshmen Dixon, Lonny Baxter and Danny Miller were all on the court for much of a four-minute surge when the Terps pushed a two-point game into a 10-point halftime lead. Maryland got 36 minutes and 23 points from its bench in the first half, when its three seniors were limited to six points, all by Ekezie.

The starting five applied the knockout punch with a 9-1 run that opened the second half, and Florida State (11-8, 5-3) never got closer than 12. With Laron Profit nursing a sore right thumb, and Ekezie and Terrell Stokes sometimes showing the effects of the debilitating trip to Clemson, the subs were as important as the seniors.

"We know what those guys can do," Ekezie said of the bench. "On the road, it's kind of difficult to perform in a rowdy atmosphere, but they've got more confidence at home."

Sophomore center Mardesich had 10 points, the most he has had this season in a game in which Maryland didn't set a school record for margin of victory. He made five of his six shots, one reason the Terps had a .623 field-goal percentage, their best since a Thanksgiving weekend pounding of Pittsburgh.

Baxter, a freshman who didn't even play in the Clemson game, celebrated his 20th birthday with nine points and his first collegiate three-pointer. The 6-foot-8 bruiser had not even attempted a shot beyond the arc in the Terps' first 20 games, but said he occasionally stepped outside for Hargrave (Va.) Military Academy.

Dixon had 10, the most points he's had since he was back in Baltimore beating up on Princeton in December.

Danny Miller, the third freshman off the bench, didn't score until a three at game's end, but he gathered five rebounds and four assists, easily the biggest contribution he has made in 1999.

The Terps' first five had trouble finding the Seminoles' three-point shooters, and Delvon Arrington's transition basket with 4: 42 left in the first half had Florida State, which had won four of its past five, within 34-32. The Terps then went on a 16-6 run, which featured some sweet passing from the subs.

Mardesich started a Terps possession with a block of Terrell Baker, and finished it with a lay-in off a pass from Miller. After two free throws by Francis, Miller fed Mardesich again. Morris had five dunks, and two of them came off assists from Dixon and Miller. The latter stretched the lead to 50-38 with 14 seconds left in the half.

A steal by Morris set up a Francis breakaway that made it 59-41 two minutes into the second half. The lead got up to 91-71 with 5: 21 left, on one of Profit's three second-half three-pointers.

Florida State got 22 points from forward Ron Hale, and a lesson that it's not wise to foul Maryland, which made a season-high 89.3 percent of its free throws.

"They didn't get to be No. 4 in the nation by not being a good team," Seminoles coach Steve Robinson said. "We tried to make a run and push at them, but we weren't big enough and strong enough to defend them."

Next for Terps

Opponent: Wake Forest

Site: Joel Coliseum, Winston-Salem, N.C.

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)

Helping hands

Maryland's Terrell Stokes moved into second place among the school's all-time assist leaders last night:

Player Yrs Asts

Keith Gatlin '83-88 649

Terrell Stokes '95-99 516

John Lucas '72-76 514

Duane Simpkins '93-96 483

Kevin McLinton '89-93 469

Pub Date: 1/28/99

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