Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Terps Lost Weekend at BB&T Classic

Originally posted on "TerpTown" on the network and syndicated to Yahoo

The Maryland Terrapins entered into their first losing streak of the season over the weekend, falling to Gonzaga 82-68 and dropping a 78-77 overtime decision to West Virginia in the 9 th annual BB&T Classic at the MCI Center. Is this a step back or is it merely another lesson for Coach Gary Williams' young team to learn?

When it comes to lessons, perhaps the most important one the Terrapins learned this weekend was the importance of defending the three-point shot. It hardly seems a coincidence that both Gonzaga and West Virginia set season highs for three-pointers vs. Maryland. The Zags were 13-23, led by Blake Stepp's amazing 7-11 performance. The Mountaineers followed up on Sunday by making 13-26. The latter number has to be particularly frustrating for Coach Williams since West Virginia connected on only 36% of their two-point attempts, which theoretically are more difficult than shots behind the arc.

Another thing the Terps learned was not to get drawn into a three-point shooting contest. Maryland tried at times to match Gonzaga's three-point shooting on Saturday, but we were all reminded that this is not a strength of the Terrapin squad. Maryland made only 4-20 of their shots from behind the arc. Their 6-13 performance Sunday is more indicative of what we can expect from them this season. Chris McCray's three three-pointers in that game were a season high for any Terrapin.

Another point illustrated about this Maryland team is that they will not win many games without forcing a lot of turnovers. The Terps led Gonzaga 34-30 at halftime on the strength of turning the Zags over 16 times. Forcing only 8 turnovers in the second half was not enough to offset Gonzaga's 60% shooting or make up for Maryland's 31% from the field.

The Terps only forced 13 turnovers against West Virginia, 5 of those coming in their 14-0 run over 5 minutes in the second half that cut the Mountaineers' lead from 16 to 2. Maryland was hurt by the 19 turnovers they committed and are going to be hard pressed to win any game this season where they go –6 in turnover differential. Gonzaga won with a –7 differential, but look at their three-point shooting. A 13-23 game beyond the arc can cover up a number of deficiencies, a margin of error Maryland does not have at this point.

Another issue Coach Williams needs to address is the lack of scoring from the bench. D. J. Strawberry has been a defensive terror as the sixth man, and Ekene Ibekwe has been very active at both ends of the court, but no one is scoring on a consistent basis. The Terps' bench combined for only 18 points in the two games this weekend, a disappointment considering Maryland's depth was supposed to be a major asset this season.

Perhaps the biggest letdown so far has been freshman Mike Jones. Over the summer, many fans assumed he would walk in and win a spot in the starting lineup from day one. As it turns out, he's not even the first guard off the bench. Coach Williams was asked about him in a recent chat. Williams said, “As soon as he gets comfortable doing things other than shooting” is when he would start seeing playing time. Jones looked pretty comfortable shooting against Gonzaga, launching three 3's in only five minutes of playing time, making one. He only played one minute against West Virginia, going 0-1 from the field. It is hard to imagine Maryland making a run for the top of the ACC without a stronger contribution from its bench, particularly Jones.

Among notable individual performances this weekend, Nik Caner-Medley led the Terps in scoring against Gonzaga with 16 points, and Jamar Smith, who missed a double-double for the first time this season against the Zags, came back strong with 23 points and 13 rebounds against West Virginia. John Gilchrist scored 15 points and dished out 7 assists against the Mountaineers, but turned the ball over an alarming 8 times. Chris McCray also contributed 16 points and a career high seven assists in that game.

After the West Virginia game, Coach Williams said, "We have to prove which team we are. We have to prove if we are the team that beat Wisconsin, or the team that was down 16 today. We have to decide which team we want to be."

Now all the Terps have to do in order to end their losing streak is visit the new #1 team in the nation, Florida. The game will be on ESPN at 7 PM Wednesday. The Gators, led by Matt Walsh and Anthony Roberson, love to shoot the three-pointer. We will get an early indication of how quickly this Maryland team can make adjustments in their defensive rotation on Wednesday night.

Notes from Under the Shell
This was the first time Maryland has finished fourth in the nine-year history of the BB&T Classic. The Terps also failed to place any player on the All-Tournament Team for the first time.

Maryland and Gonzaga met for only the second time in history. Their first game was an 87-63 Terrapin victory in the 1995 NCAA Tournament.

This was the first time Maryland had played West Virginia since dropping an 86-72 decision in Morgantown on December 5, 1992. The Mountaineers lead the all-time series 23-14.
Maryland will be holding a collection for Toys for Tots before the Pepperdine game on Sunday, December 14 at 5:30 PM at the Comcast Center. Packaged toys and/or a cash donation are welcome.

Maryland has defeated #1 teams eight times, seven of them at home (most recently Duke last year). The only Terrapin victory at a #1 team was in February, 1986, a 77-72 win at North Carolina many fans will remember as the game Len Bias simply refused to let Maryland lose.


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