At least 1 at Creighton is familiar with Terps; Assistant coach Gordy was at Towson for Lefty's 500th; St. John's Thornton falls; South Regional notebook

THE BALTIMORE SUN

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Maryland doesn't know much about Creighton, but one of the Bluejays' assistant coaches knows something about Maryland.

Len Gordy was an assistant coach at Towson University from 1983-85, and had the misfortune of being on the wrong end of a lopsided score when Lefty Driesell got his 500th coaching win.

Gordy was an assistant to Cliff Ellis at Clemson from 1985-92, when the Tigers went to three NCAA tournaments and he became familiar with Gary Williams' system.

"We've known about this Maryland team all year," Gordy said. "We've said that they're a top five team all year. We're going to have our hands full, but we've got a funny ballclub. Our guys, all of a sudden, have started rising."

The team from Omaha, Neb., won its seventh straight, 62-58 over Louisville, to earn a second-round date with Maryland. The Bluejays have gradually improved in five seasons under coach Dana Altman, and they have come a long way since last season, when they struggled to win at Towson.

Maryland and Creighton have played only once and it was at the same level of the NCAA tournament, the round of 32.

The 1974-75 Terrapins featuring the whirlwind three guards -- Brad Davis, John Lucas and Mo Howard -- whipped the Bluejays, 83-79, at Texas Tech and went on to make the final eight before losing to Louisville.

Maryland was ranked second nationally when it met Creighton in a barn-like facility in Lubbock, Texas.

Yesterday, Creighton's comeback captured the attention of a less-than-filled Orlando Arena, as only 10,032 fans showed up for the afternoon doubleheader.

There weren't more than 4,000 people in the building when Maryland tipped off against Valparaiso, which would have been the smallest crowd to see the Terps play since Puerto Rico.

A Terps team that thrives on emotion had to create its own.

"It doesn't matter," senior forward Laron Profit said. "I wouldn't be here if I wasn't playing. If we keep winning, down the road, they'll turn people away."

Valparaiso coach Homer Drew said fans didn't know what they were missing, after he sought out Steve Francis. The junior guard's spectacular play included a running left-handed bank shot in the first half.

"I told him I was looking forward to seeing him in the NBA," Drew said. "I told him, he'll probably be called 'Sir Francis.' He's got the ability. He's a quality kid, a real neat person."

Thornton scares Red Storm

Third-seeded St. John's had a mild scare three minutes into the second half of its blowout of Samford, as junior guard Bootsy Thornton was knocked to the floor after an off-balance attempt at a drive.

The junior guard out of Baltimore's Dunbar High winced on the floor and held his right arm, but said he wasn't injured.

"It didn't hurt, but I was just making sure," Thornton said. "I came down on my right elbow. I didn't want to come out of the game, but they had stopped play, so I had to. I'm fine."

Thornton is a second-team All-Big East Conference selection and St. John's second-leading scorer, but his point production has been down since he badly sprained his right thumb against West Virginia Feb. 9.

He was on his game last night, as he shot 6-for-9 from the field and had 13 points.

Milestones

Maryland had 19 assists, giving it 647 for the season, a school record. St. John's win gave the Big East school its winningest season since 1985-86 when it went 31-5. Valparaiso became just the fourth school in NCAA history to win both its conference's regular season and tournament championships in five straight seasons. The Crusaders joined Kentucky (1944-50), North Carolina State (1947-51) and Massachusetts (1992-96).

And in the end

The final horn never sounded at the end of Creighton's victory over Louisville. The officials had to blow their whistles to signify the game's end.

Between the day and night sessions, the horn was tested over and over and over again.

Et cetera

Williams went without Francis or Terrell Stokes for a brief first-half stretch, something he has typically done only in blowouts. Backup center Mike Mardesich continues to struggle from the field, as a 2-for-7 game dropped his shooting percentage to .356. The Terps elevated their average margin of victory to 19.2 points. Stokes has 19 assists to four turnovers in his last three NCAA games. Stokes and Profit evened their NCAA records at 3-3. Kentucky athletic director C. M. Newton, the chairman of the NCAA men's basketball committee, was in attendance. St. John's victory was its first in the tournament since 1993, when the Red Storm beat Texas Tech in the first round.

Pub Date: 3/12/99

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