Surprising freshman Cornelius Cousins, merely third in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship meet, soared to the long jump title today, boosting the University of Maryland into an early but probably unsustainable lead in the 59th IC4A indoor track and field championships at Princeton University.

Normally the third best Terp long jumper, Cousins sailed a personal best 24 feet 3 inches, lifting Maryland (14 points) ahead of Penn (12), with 16 events scheduled Sunday.

But the Terp's chances of upsetting NCAA indoor champion Villanova -- already slim with world recold-holder Renaldo Nehemiah resting an injured ankle -- took a nosedive when defending champion Chris Person and teammate Darryl Bryant were eliminated in the 500-meter dash semifinals.

Even in the long jump, Coach Frank Costello's team had its troubles. Maryland's ACC champ, Kevin Wilson, who has a 24-7 best, fouled three times and was disqualified. Teammate Ward Wilson managed to place fourth at 23-8 3/4 but was 7 1/2 inches shy of his season best. Teammate Bo Kent did not place.

"I know the coach is probably going bananas," Cousins said.

"I never had a guy foul three times in the IC4As!" said Costello, resigned to, at best, a second-place team finish. "But Cousins . . . could become the best jumper Maryland has ever had."

A big effort on his next-to-last jump enabled Cousins to vault from fourth place and avenge two season defeats to Lincoln (Pa.) University's Robert Williams, who jumped 24-1.

"I don't know why I like being behind," said Cousins, a Virginia state champion in three events last year for Richmond's Hermitage High and the 1980 ACC tripple jump champ. "I love pressure. I'm a big meet competitor. I wish someone would jump further, so I could improve.

A glimmer of hope seemed to surface this morning, when Villanova NCAA champ Anthony Tufariello was not entered in the 500-meter dash. But the Wildcats were permitted to pay a $25 late entry fee over heated protests.

Villanova did lose a defending champion in the qualifying at 400 meters when Keith Brown, a native of Baltimore, strained a leg muscle.

One meet record was set. Georgetown's John Gregorek speeding to a 3:50.9 in his 1,500-meter semifinal. That smashed a mark that had stood since 1934 -- 3:57.4 by Princeton's Bill Bonthron -- largely because the distance had not been run in this meet since 1936. This year, except for relays, the IC4A gone all metric.

Gregorek's record, equivalent to a 4:06 mile, should last all of 24 hours. Sunday, the Georgetown sophomore goes against Villanova NCAA champion Don Paige, who ran a 3:54 mile this winter.