Maryland Easily Adjusts to Life Without Ekezie
Posted February 13, 1999 6:00 a.m. EST
COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — The Maryland Terrapins aren't going to let Obinna Ekezie's ruptured Achilles tendon shatter their quest to make a run at the national championship.
Maryland has recorded two impressive victories since learning Wednesday that their injured senior center would miss the remainder of the season. After defeating North Carolina State 63-50 on the road, the seventh-ranked Terrapins remained in contention for a No. 1 seed by hammering North Carolina 81-64 Saturday at Cole Field House.
Maryland (22-4) now gets a well-deserved break, and coach Gary Williams plans to use the time leading up to this Sunday's game at Georgia Tech to make sure his players remember what must be done to cover for Ekezie's absence.
``I'm really pleased with the way we've handled this situation this week. Now obviously we have to sustain it,'' Williams said. ``This can't be a two-game thing.''
The 6-foot-10 Ekezie provided the Terrapins with points, rebounds and leadership. Freshman Lonny Baxter is now the starter in the middle, but virtually every player has made an effort to fill the void.
Forward Terence Morris has become a huge factor underneath the basket, backup center Mike Mardesich has become much more aggressive and senior guard Terrell Stokes has become the undisputed leader on the floor.
Most importantly, the Terrapins have rededicated themselves to the notion that defense wins championships. NC State shot only 25.5 percent from the floor and North Carolina's 25 turnovers was its most in a game since 1997.
``How do you make up for the loss of Obinna? You just play well defensively,'' Williams said. ``We've been a good defensive team all year, but we just picked it up a little bit.''
Playing closer to the basket than ever before, Morris had five of Maryland's 14 blocked shots and grabbed nine rebounds.
``We didn't really talk about it, but I think Terence is smart enough to know that he has to be a factor, maybe more on the boards and more inside than he was before,'' Williams said.
Baxter recorded three steals and four rebounds, Mardesich had six rebounds and nine points, and each one of the eight players who saw action pulled down at least one rebound.
``We just really wanted to send a message out there: The big fella is not here, but we have some guys on this team who are athletic,'' guard Laron Profit said. ``We get up in the air. We're going to make up for the loss of Obinna with everybody contributing.''
Four players scored in double figures Saturday as Maryland solidified its grasp on second place in the Atlantic Coast Conference with its most lopsided victory over the Tar Heels since 1975.
``I know they miss Ekezie, but they are certainly picking up the slack,'' North Carolina coach Bill Guthridge said.
There is some question as to whether the Terrapins can sustain the momentum, given that they don't play again until next weekend. The players, however, remain confident.
``I think it's good. We can kind of refuel and energize ourselves,'' Profit said. ``We're playing real well right now, but this is a chance for us to get our legs back and get mentally sharp again.''