No. 4 Maryland was on the wrong side of one of the major upsets of the college basketball season yesterday, as the sleepwalking Terps never awoke from a 10-0 deficit and lost, 85-72, to the heretofore slumping Demon Deacons at Lawrence Joel Memorial Coliseum.
A 36-point swing from their Dec. 3 meeting at Cole Field House was hardly the manner in which Maryland (19-3, 7-2) wanted to start the second half of its Atlantic Coast Conference schedule. Unless the Terps can pull a surprise and knock off the Blue Devils in Durham, they'll have to deal with their first losing streak.
The loss deflated Maryland's hopes of catching Duke in the ACC and earning a top seed in the NCAA tournament. The Blue Devils and Terps began the day rated Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, in the computer programs used to seed the NCAAs, but numbers mean nothing without emotion, which Maryland did not pack.
Afterward, coach Gary Williams pointed at his senior captains -- center Obinna Ekezie, forward Laron Profit and point guard Terrell Stokes -- for a lack of direction.
"There comes a time when your senior leadership has to stand up and say 'we're going to play hard' and go make people play hard," Williams said. "It's one thing for a coach to say it. Your seniors have to go out and do it. We didn't start very well, and I was very disappointed with that.
"There was no reason for Wake Forest to be more ready than we were."
Ekezie was held without a basket for the first time since early in his sophomore season, and drew a technical foul as the Terps came undone in the second half.
Late in the first half, Profit complained when he was pulled. The half-court offense was shaky against a variety of defenses, and Stokes rushed some three-pointers.
The seniors weren't entirely to blame. The starting front line of Ekezie, Profit and sophomore forward Terence Morris came out soft, and you needed one hand to count the number of baskets they collected inside the three-point arc. Morris, the Terps' most consistent player in 1999, shot 1-for-6 in the first half.
At least Juan Dixon, the freshman guard out of Calvert Hall who had a career-high 18 points, stood up early. The Wake Forest students who mobbed the floor at the end -- when's the last time someone did that against Maryland? -- were one last sign that if the Terps took the game for granted, the Demon Deacons did not.
Wake Forest (12-9, 3-6) got a career-high 32 points from sophomore guard Robert O'Kelley and its highest scoring total of what had been a trying season.
The Demon Deacons had lost five straight, their worst stretch since Dave Odom was a first-year coach in 1989-90. The Terps, conversely, were looking to extend their win streak to seven, which would have tied the best stretch they've had in the ACC in more than four decades.
When Maryland beat Wake Forest, 92-69, two months ago, the Terps made their first 14 shots and didn't misfire until the eighth minute. That's how long it took for them to find the basket yesterday, as their first 14 possessions ended in seven missed shots, six turnovers and a pair of free throws by Steve Francis.
"That was ridiculous," Williams said of the first TV timeout, which had the Terps down 8-0 at the four-minute mark.
When Lonny Baxter got Maryland's first basket, 7: 50 had elapsed. By then, the Terps already were down by 10.
The starters were a pitiful 2-for-15 from the field in the first half. Their first basket came with 7: 46 to go in the half, when Profit converted a Francis lob into a dunk.
A similar play brought the Terps within 28-25 a minute into the second half, but the Demon Deacons responded with a 15-2 run.
The difference got as high as 22 at 52-30 with 10: 46 left, and the Terps never got closer than 12.
Wake Forest, which started two freshmen and two sophomores, outhustled Maryland in transition several times during that exasperating run. When the Terps were able to set their pressure, the Demon Deacons weren't content to get the ball over the time line, as they attacked the basket.
For the second straight season, Maryland's worst shooting performance came at Wake Forest, as the Terps made just 35.8 percent of their field-goal attempts.
"If they aren't scoring, it is not quite as easy to set up the press," Odom said. "When you score, you set the press up and it's also an emotional lift."
Odom complained about a crowd that filled only two-thirds of the arena, but the only other hostile setting where Maryland lost was at Kentucky, the defending NCAA champion.
Now the Terps have to go to Cameron Indoor Stadium, another visitors' hell.
Stokes was at a loss to pinpoint the Terps' problem yesterday. Did Williams think his team was looking ahead to the Blue Devils, the last opponent (on Jan. 3) before yesterday to beat them?
"No, no," Williams said. "If it did, we're not as good as I thought. You can't be in this league for four years and allow the next game after this one to come into play."
Pub Date: 2/01/99