TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- After he lit up dark, dank Leon County Civic Center with a career-high 32 points and a celebratory technical foul, Laron Profit was asked what motivated No. 5 Maryland against Florida State, the sinking ship of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
"They came out with a lot of emotion, but we were ready to take care of business," Profit said. "We feel like every game we're being watched. We're being scrutinized because we're in the running for a No. 1 seed, and we want to be playing our best going into March."
The Terps did not take their "A" game south, but they were in control throughout a methodical 84-75 victory over the Seminoles yesterday that stretched their winning streak to six games and capped one of the finest regular seasons in the university's basketball history.
Maryland (25-4, 13-3) had its worst rebounding game of the season, yet had little difficulty establishing records for regular season and ACC wins. The Terps nearly wasted leads of 11 points in the first half and 10 in the second, but the Seminoles were victimized by 18 steals, as Profit and company established a conference record in that department.
The second-seeded Terps will open the ACC tournament Friday against either Clemson or Florida State, who meet in a Thursday preliminary. If Maryland wants to keep alive its quest for a top seed in the NCAA tournament, it must win at least twice at the Charlotte (N.C.) Coliseum and get in the ACC final for the first time since 1984.
"That's a great regular season," senior point guard Terrell Stokes said. "Not good, great. Anybody in America would want to be 25-4. We did a tremendous job all year."
Their previous four wins had all been impressive blowouts in the wake of a career-ending injury to senior center Obinna Ekezie, and coach Gary Williams accepted an effort that at times was ho-hum.
It closed a hectic week that began in Atlanta with a 31-point blowout of Georgia Tech, then moved to Cole Field House, where the seniors were feted before they played Clemson and Steve Francis torched the Tigers with 32. Profit matched that total yesterday, as the Terps gave another display of their balance.
With 6-foot-5 Terrell Baker draped over Francis, Profit stepped up with 11 points in the first half, when he was 5-for-6 from the field and the Terps squandered a 31-20 lead. Maryland gave Florida State 14 second chances in the first half, and its usually steady free throw shooting was atrocious, as the Terps missed eight of their first 14.
Florida State (12-16, 5-11), which lost for the ninth straight time in the conference, got within 36-35 on Delvon Arrington's transition basket two minutes into the second half, but Maryland answered with an 11-2 run. Profit started it with a left-handed scoop, and finished it with seven straight points, the last five on steals and coast-to-coast drives.
Profit's exultation over his chance at a three-point play with 16: 11 left was too much for official Steve Gordon, who gave him a technical after the senior wing forward waved both arms to the crowd. Arrington missed both free throws, Profit issued some mea culpas and Williams shrugged.
"Officials don't like those things," Williams said. "I like our team, I like our guys. They've conducted themselves well all year. We're not supposed to be General Motors, where we can't show individual expression. I like our guys. I didn't take him [Profit] out of the game."
The Terps, who had 21 turnovers, many unforced, fell into a funk and went nearly four minutes without a point. Even when the Seminoles had two chances to tie the game at 54, however, Maryland never seemed in danger of losing control. A steal by Lonny Baxter led to a three-pointer by Francis, and Florida State got as close as four points only once more.
Profit had a career-high 13 field goals in only 17 attempts. He also had seven rebounds and four steals, which seemed low considering the number of times he stepped out and picked the Seminoles clean on their left wing.
Terence Morris had his second straight 3-for-9 shooting game, but had nine free throws and 16 points, including a three-pointer from the left corner that put the Terps ahead to stay at 19-16. Francis had 15, while Stokes had five assists, five steals and kept up a running conversation with some hecklers in the second half.
Afterward, the Terps made their way back to College Park to check up on the teams they're chasing for one of the four No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament.
"Let's go watch what the other guys are doing," Francis said.
NOTES: The Terps got a first-half lift from freshmen Danny Miller and Juan Dixon, who turned his left ankle midway through the second half and did not return. It was Matt Hahn's 21st birthday. Ekezie made his first road trip since he was injured Feb. 9. Baker led the Seminoles with 22 points. Florida State lost its last seven games and its last nine ACC games, the longest league losing steak in a dozen years.
Terps at 25
With yesterday's victory, Maryland achieved a 25-win season for the fourth time in school history. The other three times, Maryland needed postseason victories to get to the 25-win mark. A look:
Season Rec. Postseason
'71-72 27-5 NIT champion
'94-95 26-8 NCAA Sweet 16
'84-85 25-12 NCAA Sweet 16
Several school and Atlantic Coast Conference records have been established by Maryland this season.
School regular-season wins: 25
School ACC wins: 13
School ACC road wins: 6
School ACC career wins by players (Profit and Stokes): 40
Steals by ACC team: 373
Pub Date: 2/28/99