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Standing tall Francis, Terps top Stanford

December 07, 1998|By BOB PARASILITI

WASHINGTON - Steve Francis did his part to promote civic pride.

In a nationally televised game in the nation's capital with national poll implications against a nationally ranked team, it was the kid playing in his own backyard who grabbed the national spotlight.

Francis, the guy from the 'hood of Silver Spring, Md., showed No. 5 Stanford the way around the block on Sunday with a career-high 24 points to pace No. 2 Maryland to a 62-60 victory in the opening round of the BB&T Classic at the MCI Center.

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Francis played to the partisan crowd with spine-tingling athletic moves performed with flamboyant style to chop down the Cardinal's vaunted height advantage and prove once and maybe for all, that he and Terrapin basketball have arrived.

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"This was a big test for us," Francis said as Maryland moved to 9-0 on the season by winning its toughest and closest game thus far. "They were a top five team, and we're a top five team. It was a statement for us. I think we will have more tough ones ahead, but this was on national TV. This wasn't our home court. But it was close, and we had to defend something."

And Francis made sure the Terps had the exclamation point.

The victory could become the signature win for the Terps. Stanford entered the game with all five starters returning from last year's Final Four team. The Cardinal left after losing another close game to another highly rated opponent.

Maryland plays DePaul tonight at 8:30 for the tournament title. DePaul beat George Washington 87-79 in the other first-round game.

"We needed to make our plays with a team of that caliber," Stanford coach Mike Montgomery said. "Even with five seconds and a chance to tie, we just didn't make the play. Steve Francis was huge. A great one-on-one player. He's tough, has great legs, shoots deep. He was the go-to guy for them. He made it happen."

On a day when seniors Obinna Ekezie and Laron Profit were ineffective, Francis filled the void in acrobatic fashion. The junior showed that Dick Vitale's raves were more than just verbal graffiti.

Maryland fought back from an early 19-8 deficit with a 19-5 run for a 27-24 lead with 4:53 left in the half. Francis led the way with shots off the move, but the comeback was highlighted by two 3-point bombs by freshman Danny Miller.

"We didn't come out as sharp as we have been," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "Of course, Stanford is probably the best team we've played so far, too, so that had something to do with it. Stanford really jumped on us, and we had to fight hard just to get back in it in the first half.

"I thought Danny Miller really created a spark. And, of course, Steve Francis is a great player. He likes challenges and enjoys the situation to have the ball in crucial situations."

Maryland, using a half-court trap defense, forced turnovers to continue to push the game in their favor. Francis highlighted the stirring rally by picking up a loose ball and hitting a layup while switching hands in midair and fading away from the basket helping the Terps to a 39-28 lead before they settled for a 39-32 halftime advantage.

"I don't think I have (shown all my best moves yet)," Francis said. "I still have stuff I haven't shown. I just took what their defense gave me, and they allowed me to go to the basket. People are asking me if I played like this because of national TV. This has been coming ... it just happened to fall with national TV here."

Stanford used the intermission to regroup and turned to long-range shooting to get back into the game. The Cardinal used a 13-6 flurry to open the second half, tying the score at 45 on Peter Sauer's 3-pointer.

Stanford used a pair of 3-pointers by David Moseley to take a pair of three-point leads. But Terrell Stokes tied the game at 51-51 with a 3-pointer with 6:15 remaining, and Francis added a pair of coast-to-coast drives to help Maryland to a 56-51 lead with 4:46 left.

The Cardinal tied the game again at 57 before Maryland used a 5-0 run to push to a 62-57 lead with 11.9 seconds remaining. Profit hit his only three points of the game in the stretch. Stanford's Arthur Lee buried one last 3-pointer with 5.9 seconds left, but the Terps were able to run out the clock to salt away the win.

Francis completed his introduction to the national forefront by leading the Terps, who were outrebounded 42-29, with seven boards. Terence Morris and Ekezie finished with 11 points each, while Lee led Stanford with 14.

"It was a big-time win," Profit said. "Everybody stepped up today. They made a run, but we were like a heavyweight fighter ... they couldn't knock us out. As far as Steve Francis is concerned, he played a heck of a game, stepped up big time and showed everyone what kind of player he is."

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