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COLLEGE BASKETBALL / NCAA TOURNAMENT

Foreign Exchange Rates Great as Maryland Returns to Sweet 16

March 15, 1998|CHRIS DUFRESNE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — Two key overseas investments yielded a Sweet 16 return for Maryland on Saturday.

Obinna Ekezie, a junior center from Nigeria, and senior guard Sarunas Jasikevicius, from Lithuania, scored 11 of Maryland's 13 points in the final 3:50 to clinch a 67-61 victory over Illinois in a second-round West Regional game at Arco Arena.

Maryland (21-10) advances to meet Arizona on Thursday in a regional semifinal game at the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim.

Jasikevicius' three-point basket with 3:50 left broke a 54-54 tie, while Ekezie made six free throws without a miss in the final 1:58.

"I don't think I've seen him make six in a row all year," Jasikevicius said of Ekezie.

Ekezie acted as though he had played the game all his life--he only took up the sport three years ago--as he calmly stepped to the foul line and sealed it for Maryland.

Ekezie broke a 61-61 tie with his two shots with 35 seconds left, then all but secured the victory with 15 seconds left when his free throws extended the lead to four.

"I knew they were big free throws," Okezie said, "but I didn't think of them in that context. I just wanted to stick them, just like in practice."

Context?

Spoken like a man who speaks three languages.

Ekezie's last-minute heroics made up for an otherwise frustrating day. He averages 13 points a game, but didn't score his first basket until 6:04 remaining. Illinois (23-10) made the decision to swarm Ekezie in the low post and take its chances with Maryland point guard Terrell Stokes.

"Stokes is a good player," Illinois Coach Lon Kruger said. "It was a bit like choosing your poison."

Stokes finished with 10 points and made a couple of important three-point shots, but Kruger's strategy was otherwise sound. Illinois also outrebounded its taller opponent, 36 to 32.

Jasikevicius led all scorers with 20 points, making all four of his three-point attempts, and held Illinois' leading scorer, Kevin Turner, to four of 15 shooting and 10 points--seven below his average.

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