Saturday, February 28, 2004

Terps Rally But Fall to Wake Forest 91-83

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

Once again, Maryland found itself facing a double-digit deficit at halftime against a ranked ACC opponent. Once again, they mounted a furious comeback in the second half. Once again, it was not enough to pull out a much-needed win as the Terps fell to visiting Wake Forest 91-83.

Today Maryland (14-11, 5-9) showed levels of emotion, toughness, and resiliency they have rarely displayed this season. Ultimately, however, the #11 Demon Deacons (19-6, 9-5) made longer shots than the Terps. Both teams shot 49.2% from the floor, but the key to Wake's victory came from beyond the three-point arc. The Deacons made 13-23 three-pointers compared to 3-14 threes by Maryland.

Wake Forest's Vytas Danelius threatened to put Maryland away early all by himself. Danelius, who was a preseason all-ACC pick but came in averaging 5.2 points per game, doubled that production in the games' first seven minutes. He knocked down three three-pointers on his way to 11 of the Deacons' first 23 points. Maryland Coach Gary Williams admitted after the game,” We didn't expect that out of him.”

Danelius' burst spurred Wake to a 23-15 lead with 12:59 remaining in the first half, at which point Maryland began their first rally. Chris McCray and Travis Garrison led the Terps on an 11-2 run that put Maryland ahead 26-25. McCray, coming off the bench for the second straight game, exploded for a fadeaway jumper, two free throws, and a three-pointer, and Garrison added a reverse layup and a jump shot.

The Comcast Center crowd made its presence felt during this stretch, responding to John Gilchrist's urging and rolling waves of sound down upon the court. This obviously did not bother the Deacons' Justin Gray, who responded by hitting a jumper and a three-pointer to regain the lead for his team.

The Terps' Nik Caner-Medley and Gilchrist each made two free throws to tie the game at 30-30, but Wake Forest took control of the game by scoring the next ten points. Three pointers by Taron Downey and Chris Paul and two hoops by Jamaal Levy propelled the Deacons into a 40-30 lead, which grew to 46-34 at halftime.

Wake Forest dominated the boards in the first half. The Deacons held a 27-14 rebounding advantage at the break, including a 12-4 edge on the offensive boards. Amazingly, the Terps' starters combined for only three rebounds. Coach Williams said, “I thought in the first half we got consistently hurt on the glass.” Wake also hurt Maryland from beyond the three-point arc, making 7-10 while the Terps converted only 2-8.

Wake Forest pushed their lead out to 57-41 with 16:53 remaining in the game, but the Terps rallied for the second time. Maryland played some of their best basketball of the season over the next few minutes, using a 13-2 run to cut the Deacons' lead to 59-54.

McCray began the run by dishing to Caner-Medley for a layup, then finding Travis Garrison for an easy hoop the next time down the court. Caner-Medley followed with two free throws, then Gilchrist found Garrison for a dunk that brought the loudest crowd explosion yet. McCray added a free throw and a jumper during this stretch.

A few moments later, a Justin Gray three pushed Wake's lead back out to eight, but the Terps responded by scoring the next six points. Caner-Medley, breaking out of his recent slump, scored on a layup and turn-around jumper, then D. J. Strawberry came up with a steal and fed McCray for a fast-break layup. Suddenly, the Deacons led by only 64-62, and the Terps had outscored them by 21-7 over 6:54.

Over the next few minutes Wake Forest, often working deep into the shot clock, made critical shots just when it looked like the game was slipping away. Leading only by 64-62, Levy scored on an acrobatic layup off a feed from Taron Downey, then Downey knocked down a three-pointer. After two Maryland free throws, Danelius and Downey made back-to-back threes to put the Deacons ahead 75-64 with 5:08 remaining.

The score was 79-67 with 3:08 remaining when the Terps rallied one final time. Gilchrist found McCray breaking toward the hoop on an inbound pass for a three-point play, then Maryland forced Wake into a shot clock violation. Caner-Medley knocked down a three, Gilchrist stole the inbound pass, and McCray made 1-2 free throws to pull Maryland within 79-74 with 1:44 left in the game.

The Terps could not get in that one final knockout punch, however. Wake Forest made enough free throws down the stretch to offset a courageous effort from Gilchrist, who scored Maryland's last nine points.

Coach Williams again had kind words for his point guard, “I thought John Gilchrist did a good job. He stayed though against a very good guard (Chris Paul).” Down in Winston-Salem, Paul had dominated the second half and led the Deacons to a comeback win over the Terps. Today, Gilchrist scored a game-high 26 points and dished out five assists with only one turnover. Paul did have ten assists but also committed eight turnovers and scored only eight points. Call it a split decision between two of the best point guards in the ACC.

Caner-Medley returned to the scoring column in a big way today, finishing with 20 points. McCray, continuing his fine play off the bench, added 18 points. The Terps committed only four turnovers in the second half while forcing 11 by Wake Forest. They were also more competitive off the boards, holding the Deacons to a 17-13 rebounding edge after the break.

Danelius led Wake with a career-high 23 points, while Gray added 22. Levy and Downey each scored 14 for the Deacons. Levy was the game's leading rebound with 15. Gary Williams said,”
Just watch Levy sometimes if you want to see how to be a great offensive rebounder.”

Williams was understandably pleased with his team's play in the second half. “I liked our attitude in the second half in terms of competing.” Williams said. “We put ourselves with a chance to win the game.” He was also frustrated with the result, “We played well when we got behind, but that gets old.”

Noticeably absent during the Terps' comeback was their only senior, Jamar Smith, who played only one minute in the second half. Smith finished with no points and no rebounds in only eight minutes of action. Hassan Fofana, on the other hand, played 25 minutes and contributed six rebounds and three blocked shots.

When asked about playing Fofana ahead of Smith, Williams said, “He gave us a better defensive presence. He's been doing that for a while.” Could Fofana replace Smith in the starting lineup for Wednesday's game at NC State? “I haven't thought anything about Raleigh yet,” Williams said. Given the resurgence of Garrison and McCray after both were taken out of the starting lineup, it might not be a bad idea to give Fofana the start.

In a game where three-point shooting was a key, it was puzzling why Mike Jones played only five minutes for the Terps and did not attempt a shot. Unlike many Maryland fans, I have not been riding the “play Mike Jones” bandwagon, but it seems that today's game called for the Terps' best three-point shooter to at least take a shot.

In the post-game locker room, Caner-Medley told reporters, “We have two games left and we feel like we need to win both of those games, but we still have a chance. You can't act like you're out of it and hang your head. You have to be a man about it and try to win those two games.”
The Terrapins played like men today, just not good three-point shooting men.

Notes From Under the Shell
The Terps, at 5-9 in the conference, are now in a tie for seventh in the ACC with Virginia. Next Sunday's regular season finale at Comcast against the Cavaliers could decide which team avoids the dreaded play-in game at the ACC Tournament. Tell me you anticipated THAT scenario before the season started.

With today's loss, Maryland clinched their first losing ACC record since the 1992-93 season. Since the Terps are still very much as risk of missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since that season, it is unfortunate that there are bound to be a lot of comparisons between that Maryland team and this year's squad. Maryland had a dysfunctional blend of seniors and highly touted freshman in 1992-93 and posted a 2-14 ACC record. The 2003-04 Terrapins are a much better team than that one was.

The Terrapins had won their previous five games vs. Wake Forest in College Park. Maryland still holds a 56-53 edge in the all-time series.

Maryland has now lost their last seven games vs. ranked teams and has a 3-8 record vs. Top 25 opponents this season.

The Terps were assessed a technical foul late in the game for calling a time-out when there had none left. Strawberry had scrambled for a loose ball and was about to be tied up when the officials said he asked for a timeout. On his way back to the bench, Strawberry insisted he did not do that. Downey made both free throws for Wake Forest.

Maryland, second in the nation in blocked shots with just over seven per game, swatted away ten today. Along with Fofana, Garrison and Caner-Medley each had three blocks.
Thirteen is an unlucky number for the Terps when that is the total of three-pointers their opponent makes. Gonzaga and West Virginia both made 13 threes vs. Maryland this season, also Maryland losses.

Former Georgetown coach John Thompson attended today's game, serving as the color analyst for the national radio broadcast on the Westwood One network. I'm glad someone gave him directions, since neither he nor his teams ever found their way to College Park while Thompson was coaching.

Ray Lewis was apparently the Baltimore Ravens' employee of the month, joining incoming Ravens' owner at his mid-court courtside seats. Also in attendance was the state's Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele.

Maryland's next game is Wednesday night, when they travel to NC State. The game will be televised on the Raycom/Jefferson Pilot network at 9 PM.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Terps' Defense Smothers Clemson 70-49

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

An aggressive defensive effort by Maryland stymied the offensively challenged Clemson Tigers tonight and carried the Terrapins to a critical 70-49 win at Comcast Center.

Maryland (14-10, 5-8) desperately needed something positive to happen after three consecutive double-digit losses placed them precariously on the NCAA Tournament bubble. As was true during happier times earlier this season, freshman D. J. Strawberry provided the necessary spark.

Terrapin coach Gary Williams inserted Strawberry into the starting lineup for the first time in his career, and he responded like anything but a freshman. As a result, Maryland did not have to wait for his insertion into the game to pick up their defensive intensity. The Terps had it from the opening tip and never gave Clemson (10-15, 3-11) a chance to get untracked.

Maryland pitched a shutout for nearly six minutes during one stretch of the first half and ran off 14 unanswered point to take a commanding 24-7 lead with 7:05 left in the half. The Tigers took advantage of a brief Terrapin lapse to draw within 32-21 at halftime, but the numbers at the break showed just how Maryland had dominated defensively.

The Terps forced (with some help from Clemson) 14 turnovers in the first half and five different players blocked a total of eight shots. When Travis Garrison again got into early foul trouble and Jamar Smith took some ill-advised shots, Ekene Ibekwe and Hassan Fofana stepped in and played solid basketball.

Ibekwe grabbed five rebounds, blocked two shots, and knocked down Maryland's only three-pointer of the half. Fofana teamed with him to shut the Tigers down on the offensive boards.
Chris McCray responded to his benching by playing one of his best halves of the year, making four of six shots and, along with John Gilchrist, led the Terps in scoring at the break with eight points. Coach Williams said, ” Chris' scoring gave us a little jolt. It was good to see the ball going in the basket. Chris, Hassan, and Ekene kept the energy going for us.”

McCray had received encouragement from Williams. “Coach told me he needed me to do more,” McCray said, “so I just came out and played aggressive.”

Clemson made only two of their first 15 shots and finished the half shooting only 25.9%. They did not make a single three-pointer in the half.

Clemson took advantage of some sloppy ball handling by Maryland to creep within eight points several times in the second half and cause some grumbling amongst the faithful. Gilchrist stepped forward as the steadying force the Terps needed. “Gilchrist was just solid when they made a couple of runs at us,” Coach Williams said after the game.

The Tigers' last chance at making a run at the Terps came with 6:15 remaining in the game. They had just cut the Maryland lead to 53-44 and forced Williams to call a time out. The Terps came back with a 12-0 run to put the game away. A three-pointer by Gilchrist and a spectacular dunk by Strawberry to finish a fast break forced Clemson coach Oliver Purnell to call time, but that did not slow the Terps down.

McCray made a jumper, Strawberry scored on an acrobatic putback, and Ibekwe knocked down two free throws to give the Terps an insurmountable 65-44 lead with 2:49 to play.

Maryland shot 60.9% in the second half, taking the ball inside and scoring in transition. Coach Williams pointed out “We took really good shots, and when you do that, you're going to shoot a good percentage. We simplified some things and tried to stay steady on what we do best.”

The Terps also dominated the boards after halftime, holding a 21-9 rebounding advantage. Ibekwe led Maryland, tying his career high with 10 boards for the game.

On the offensive end, Gilchrist was the key. John finished with 19 points and six assists, drawing praise from his coach. “He's really starting to see people on the court, “Williams said, “I think he's really starting to pass well. He's really coming along.” Gilchrist also came up with five steals.

Strawberry made 7-9 shots and finished with 15 points, five rebounds, three steals, and two blocks. McCray made 6-8 shots and contributed 14 points and five rebounds.

Clemson had only one player, Sharrod Ford, score in double figures. Ford led the Tigers with 14 points. Clemson finished with 22 turnovers and made only 31.4% of their shots, 23.1% from three-point range.

On the other side of the ledger, Jamar Smith made only 4-11 shots, and Nik Caner-Medley sunk deeper into a horrendous slump. In 20 minutes of playing time, Caner-Medley missed all three of shots, did not score a single point, and committed seven turnovers. Free throw shooting continued to be sub-standard for the Terps as they made only 10 of 20 (50%).

Coach Williams was proud of the way his team handled Sunday's debacle at Duke, “Our players did a great job in practice yesterday and they came out ready to play. It is a sign of maturity for our team to put the game Sunday behind us.”

Williams also told his team to “let me handle the talk and all that and just play.” They held up their end of the bargain tonight

Notes From Under the Shell
Maryland stays in seventh place in the ACC with a 5-8 record after tonight's win. The Terps move within one game of Florida State and North Carolina, who are tied for fifth. With Virginia's win over North Carolina tonight, they are still only ½ game ahead of the Cavaliers and are still at risk of winding up in the dreaded ACC Tournament play-in game. Clemson sinks further into last place and is the only ACC team with an overall losing record.

The Terps still have a chance of finishing at least 7-9 in the conference, which should assure them of the school's 11 th consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament. Maryland's strength of schedule coming into this game was ranked fourth in the nation, and the team's RPI was 34, comfortably in range to earn a NCAA bid.

Maryland continues to dominate its series with Clemson, now leading 84-42 all-time. The Terps are now 49-8 vs. the Tigers at College Park. Maryland has won their last 13 meetings with Clemson, including the last seven at home.

This was the second time in their last four meetings that the Terps have held Clemson below 50 points.

It was disappointing to see hundreds of empty seats in the student section tonight. Hey ticket holders, if you can't be bothered to come to a critical game when your team is struggling, please give your tickets to someone who will come and support the team. The students that did manage to tear themselves away from their textbooks made a lot of noise tonight.

Maryland can go a long, long way toward securing a NCAA bid by winning their next game on Saturday, when Wake Forest visits the Comcast Center. ABC will televise the game beginning at 1:00 PM. Coach Williams said, “Hopefully that'll be a big enough game for everyone to come out and watch.”

Monday, February 23, 2004

Terps Blown Out at Duke 86-63

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

For a program only two years removed from a national championship, Maryland's (13-10, 4-8) effort in today's 86-63 loss at Duke was embarrassing. The #3 Blue Devils (22-3, 11-2) scored too easily and when the Terps had the ball, they often looked overmatched and/or flustered.

For the first five minutes, this contest was actually a game. Maryland's John Gilchrist and Duke's Luol Deng controlled most of the early action. Gilchrist scored eight of the Terps' first 11 points while Deng scored the Blue Devils' first nine. At the first media time out with 15:09 remaining in the first half, the score was tied 11-11.

If you are a Maryland fan and were taping this game, you were fortunate if your VCR cut off at that point. After John Gilchrist's layup gave the Terps an 11-9 lead, it took 6:28 for Maryland to score their next basket. During that cold spell, Duke outscored the Terps 21-5 and took complete control of the game. At one point, Maryland turned the ball over on four consecutive possessions without getting a shot off.

Back-to-back three pointers by Nik Caner-Medley and Travis Garrison gave the Terps a brief glimmer of hope, cutting the Blue Devils' lead to 30-22. Duke responded with an 8-2 burst, however, and Maryland would not get within ten points the rest of the game.

The Blue Devils led 45-28 at halftime, and, after scoring the first five points of the second half, never led by less than 19. The fans waiting for the Terps to make a second half run like they did at North Carolina last Sunday, are still waiting. Maryland scored consecutive hoops only once after halftime and was unable to put any type of sustained pressure on the Devils.

A few numbers are worth mentioning to illustrate Duke's dominance and the Terps' futility. Maryland committed 15 turnovers while digging their deep hole in the first half and finished the game with 23. The Terps' 38.3% shooting keeps them on track to finish with their lowest team field goal percentage in 35 years. Their 51.9% free throw shooting keeps Maryland on pace to set a school record for worst team percentage since they began keeping records in the 1950-51 season.

There are many theories being tossed around by frustrated and angry fans about why the Terps are in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1992-93, the year before Joe Smith and Keith Booth arrived. Some of the less rational fans are complaining about Gary Williams' coaching. Others now think the players he recruited are not good enough to win in the ACC.

I think it's safe to say Williams did not suddenly forget how to coach, nor did he lose his ability to evaluate talent. In the 2001-02 season, he pushed all the right buttons when Maryland won the national championship. Williams was hailed as a master of putting together a roster comprised of less heralded prospects which he molded into the first championship team in Maryland's school history. To my knowledge, aliens did not come to earth and suck his brains out, nor did he suffer any massive head trauma that turned him into a softie or a moron.

So what's is the problem? The 2003-04 Maryland basketball team clearly has its limitations. First and foremost, they don't shoot very well.

The inside game, so powerful two years ago, dropped off some last year with the transition from Lonny Baxter to Ryan Randle; however, this season the inside game has been MIA most of the time. Jamar Smith has been a strong rebounder (second in the ACC), but he is making less than 43% of his shots. For a team to be effective with the inside-out approach that Gary Williams likes to take, the center must be a more effective shooter than that.

Teams can get by without a consistent low-post threat if they can make perimeter shots. Unfortunately for the Terps, they make less than 33% of their three-point attempts. Caner-Medley, who has taken the most three's on the team, shoots 31%. Chris McCray, with the third-most attempts, is just below 30%.

So Maryland's inside game is inconsistent and their perimeter shooting is ineffective. Sounds like a pressure defense that forces turnovers and creates easy shots would be a necessity here to win games. However, the Terps have demonstrated that they are not quick enough to be effective with that strategy on a frequent basis. Attempts at trapping teams in the backcourt have often resulted in opposing players dribbling right around Maryland defenders thus creating easy opportunities when the Terps don't get back on defense.

These are all significant problems, but not insurmountable. At this point in time, Maryland lacks the intestinal fortitude to be a very good team. After today's game, Gary Williams told radio analyst Chris Knoche, “We didn't have the intensity level needed to win.” How is that possible?! How can a team come out and play their most hated rival on national television in a critically important game and not be intense?

It's not as if this team has not shown that toughness and strength of character this season. They displayed it abundantly at Florida in December against the #1 team and one of the nastier, most hostile crowds I have seen in recent years. Maryland played with toughness and character when they dominated the second half in their win over North Carolina at the Comcast Center in early January.

A week after the win over the Tar Heels, Duke visited College Park with all of the usual hype and excitement. What was unusual about that game is that the Blue Devils came into the Terps home court and physically beat them up. Duke was a much tougher team that night, and Maryland has not been the same team since that night.

All of the shortcomings I listed above existed before that game, but the Terps were often able to find ways around them to win. Beginning with the Blue Devils' visit, Maryland has staggered into a deep funk causing a 3-6 record including three losses at home.

This reminds me in some ways of the last real slump the Terps endured back in 2001. It began with the infamous Duke game at Cole Field House where the Blue Devils made up a ten-point deficit in the last 54 seconds and won the game in overtime. That sent Maryland into a tailspin where they lost five of six games and spurred talk of them having to settle for a NIT bid. That fifth loss was the debacle against Florida State (the last game the Terps ever lost at Cole Field House) that saw the team leave the floor to a chorus of boos.

The 2001 team bounced back in historic fashion, winning 10 of 11 games and earning the school's first trip to the Final Four. We all know how much talent that Maryland squad had, but they also had toughness and leadership. They circled the wagons and refused to quit, even when it seemed everyone else had given up on them.

Does the 2003-04 Terrapin team possess any of those qualities? Will they stop worrying so much about the officiating and just concentrate on playing? Even when calls don't go their way, will they just hunker down and, instead of feeling like victims, become more determined to overcome the situation?

Will this team eliminate or at least severely reduce the mental lapses that seem to be coming more frequently, not less? Not to single him out, but Chris McCray's play in the second half, when he caught an inbound pass with :01 on the shot clock and didn't even look at the basket, is symptomatic of this trend. McCray, rather than accept the blame for making a dumb mistake, appeared to make excuses to Williams when Gary started yelling at him. This earned McCray a seat on the bench (probably covered with super glue) and he never reentered the game.

Williams has been very careful not to make excuses for this squad. The players, unfortunately, have often not followed his lead. Someone needs to hate to lose so much that they make life miserable enough for their teammates that they will also hate to lose. That player then needs to make clutch plays to demonstrate that he will not allow his team to be defeated. John Gilchrist did this in the Terps' win at Virginia, but neither he nor anyone else has stepped up to that level on a consistent basis this season.

This group of players is a good group of young men. They appear to get along well with each other and, according to Coach Williams, work hard in practice and do everything he asks of them. It is clear they do not like to lose, but they are such a low-key group that perhaps they don't HATE losing. The best thing that could happen to these players is for someone to go off in the locker room and challenge himself and everyone in there, then go out and answer that challenge. If a leader emerges, the others will follow.

It's not too late to rekindle what they had in December and early January and salvage this season, but there are only a few sands left in the hourglass.

Notes From Under the Shell
Duke has now won 40 consecutive home games, tied with Pittsburgh for the longest active home court streak in the nation. The Blue Devils' last loss at home was to Maryland on February 27, 2001. The last team besides the Terps to win at Cameron Indoor Stadium is North Carolina. The Tar Heels defeated Duke 85-83 on February 1, 2001. Ironically, that was the Blue Devils' first game after their “Gone in 54 Seconds” win at Maryland.

Maryland remains in seventh place in the ACC standings at 4-8, and is now closer to falling into the dreaded play-in game than they are to sixth place. The Terps now lead eighth place Virginia (4-9) by only 1/2 game and last place Clemson by 1½ games. Maryland's RPI ranking of 35 going into this game still gives them a chance of earring a NCAA bid.

Duke has won their last three meetings with Maryland, and Gary Williams' record as Terps' head coach vs. Duke stands at 8-28.

Duke has been ranked in the Top 10 the last 18 times they have played Maryland.

The Terps don't have long to shake this loss off since they face Clemson on Tuesday night in an 8:00 PM game at the Comcast Center. The game will be televised regionally on the Raycom/Jefferson Pilot network. This IS a must win game. Coach Williams said after today's game, “We need support now, not just when we're national champions.” If Maryland loses their fourth in a row to the last-place Tigers, it's time to prepare for the NIT.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Terps Fall to Georgia Tech 75-64

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

Maryland fans, it is NOW time to worry. The Terrapins' streak of ten consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances is in serious jeopardy after tonight's 75-64 loss to Georgia Tech at the Comcast Center.

Although Maryland (13-9, 4-7) turned in a solid defensive effort, they just could not put the ball in the basket. They made an astonishingly bad 32% of their field goal attempts and were 3-20 from three-point range. Georgia Tech's (19-6, 6-5) defensive quickness prevented much Terrapin penetration, and Luke Schenscher's height (7'1”) changed shots when Maryland players did get close to the hoop.

If there were any doubts that the Terps are not a very good shooting team in a half-court game, tonight's numbers should erase them. Jamar Smith missed 11 of his 12 attempts, which were either under duress inside or too far away from the hoop. Nik Caner-Medley made only five of his 16 shots, but none of his four three-pointers. When he tried to drive the lane, he was often harassed by a crowd of Yellow Jackets or had the ball knocked back is his face by Schenscher. John Gilchrist missed all but one of his seven attempts and all three threes. Chris McCray was 3-8 but missed all four of his threes. Mike Jones was 2-5 and only 1-4 from three-point range.
The only effective offensive performer for Maryland tonight was Travis Garrison, who came out on fire and scored seven of the Terps' first nine points. This helped the Terps jump out to an 11-4 lead and, after Tech pulled within 13-10, Maryland had a 9-2 run to go ahead 22-13. Garrison contributed two free throws and a follow of a D. J. Strawberry miss in that second burst, which forced Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt to call a time out.

During that time out, one of the shot clocks shut down. Coach Williams later joked, "It was a state budget cut.” After that point, for all intents and purposes, so did the Terrapins offense. Tech hit Maryland with a 16-2 run late in the first half to gain control of the game and take a 35-31 lead into the locker room at halftime.

At times in the first half, the Terps' offense resembled that of a hockey team, with their first shot being like dumping the puck into the offensive zone and success coming if someone could beat the opponent to it and get a good shot at the goal. Maryland shot only 35% in the half but stayed in the game by grabbing 13 offensive rebounds.

Ice was also the theme for the Terps' offense in the second half, as in ice cold. Bad shooting became worse after halftime, dropping to 29.7%. Maryland added 13 more offensive rebounds in the second half, but still only outscored the Yellow Jackets 18-11 in second chance points for the game. The Terps also finished the contest with only 2 fast break points, while Tech scored 14 off the break.

Adding to Maryland's offensive problems was Gilchrist's foul trouble. He picked up his fourth with 9:20 to play and the Terps trailing 55-48. He returned with 3;36 to play after Maryland had scored six unanswered points to draw back within 62-56, but fouled out only 34 seconds later on the play that drove the final nail in the coffin.

The Terps had cut the lead to 62-58 and the Jacket's Jarrett Jack missed a driving layup. Schenscher followed the shot, however, and drew the fifth foul on Gilchrist. Maryland did not quit, but they didn't start making shots either and Tech had no problem holding on for the win.

Garrison finished with 16 points, leading the Terps. McCray added 11. Smith was Maryland's leading rebounder with 11. Yellow Jacket point guard Jarrett Jack got the better of Gilchrist and led his team with 21 points. Will Bynum, who torched the Terps down in Atlanta, was held to 12 points, largely due to an outstanding defensive effort from Strawberry.

After the game, a clearly disappointed Gary Williams made it very simple, “We didn't shoot the ball with any consistency during the game. You have to put the ball in the basket at some point. I thought we had some good looks that we didn't make. It gets old.”

Not surprisingly, Williams was not ready to throw in the towel. “Patience has never been my strong point,” Williams said, “but I'm trying to get the best out of these guys this year.” He added, “We will play hard on Sunday in our next game. This thing is a long way from over. There are five games left and lots can happen.”

Whatever does happen in those five games, most of it needs to be good for the Terps to keep the NCAA streak alive.

Notes From Under the Shell
Maryland remains in seventh place in the ACC with a 4-7 record. Some experts think seven ACC teams will make the NCAA Tournament (that has never happened), but I don't see that happening if one of them has a 6-10 conference record. The Terps have to win three of their last five games to avoid that. With Clemson and Virginia coming to Comcast Center, they will have to win both of those games and beat either Wake Forest at home or Duke or NC State on the road. That will not happen unless they stop shooting like they are playing with one of those trick hoops at a carnival.

Someone who disagrees with that opinion is none other than John Feinstein. He told me after the game that if Maryland finishes 6-10 in the ACC, he thinks they make the NCAA because of their quality wins and the down years in the Pac-10 and Big 10 conferences reducing their at-large bids. Who are you going to listen to, the most successful sports author of this generation, or me? Don't feel obligated to answer that question.

This was the first time the Yellow Jackets have won in College Park since 1994, having lost in their last nine trips. This is also the first time they have swept Maryland in a season since 1993. The Terps now trail the all-time series with Georgia Tech 33-28 and have won five of the last nine meetings.

Amazingly, Maryland is now the only school in the ACC with a losing record in conference games at home. The Terps are now 2-3 at home in the conference, trailing even Virginia and Clemson, who are both 3-3 in ACC games at home.

As I looked around the press area tonight, I saw former Washington Bullet stars Mitch Kupchak (General Manager of the Los Angeles Lakers) and Kevin Grevey (broadcaster) sitting down the row from me. I turned to Grevey and said if we got a pickup game going and chose players by row, I liked our row's chances. When he laughed and asked who would pass the ball, I volunteered. I'm not above racking up assists with two ringers against a bunch of sportswriters.
Maryland travels to Duke for its next game on Sunday at 4 PM. The game will be broadcast nationally on ABC. It's a tough time for the Terps to show up at Cameron, with the Blue Devils coming off their first back-to-back losses this season.

Monday, February 16, 2004

Terps Rally But Lose at NC 97-86

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

The Maryland Terrapins set the stage for another miraculous comeback at North Carolina's Smith Center Sunday afternoon. The curtain fell on the Terps' hopes, however, when the Tar Heels' Rashad McCants banked in a three-pointer to give Carolina a comfortable 92-83 lead with 2:01 remaining in the game.

Of course, for a team to put itself in position to make up a huge deficit, that usually means they got their brains beat in prior to the rally. That was certainly the case today, as the Tar Heels (15-7, 5-6) ran by the flat-footed Maryland (13-8, 4-6) team on their way to a 55-35 halftime lead.

After the teams traded the first two hoops of the game, Carolina took the lead for good. They dominated the first half in almost every conceivable fashion. The Heels pounded the Terps on the boards, holding a 30-16 edge. Carolina's aggressive play (and some home cooking by the officials) staked them to a 23-12 advantage in free throws attempted.

The Tar Heels made 58% of their shots in the first half, many of them easy layups when the Maryland defense barely even got in the way much less challenged the shooter. At the other end of the court, Carolina harassed the Terps into 30% shooting and blocked seven shots.

Time and time again, even into the second half, Maryland's front-line players (Jamar Smith, Travis Garrison, Nik Caner-Medley, and Ekene Ibekwe) took the ball inside and were quickly double and even triple-teamed. They forced up shots hoping to draw fouls but, when the whistles were not blown, were slow to adjust to that fact and kept missing scoring opportunities as a result.

Carolina received strong efforts from McCants (12 points, 5 rebounds), Sean May (10 points, 6 rebounds), and Jawad Williams (11 points), and they also got a surprising boost from Jackie Manuel. Recently named by the Raleigh News & Observer to their “William H. Macy” team (valuable players in supporting roles), Manuel was much more than that today. He scored 12 points on 4-4 shooting and gave the Heels a rare spark off the bench.

Fortunately for Maryland, they had halftime to regroup. The Terps apparently decided they wanted to try and win this game and came out of the locker room a different team. A McCants layup quickly pushed Carolina's lead out to 22 points, but Maryland responded with a 13-3 run to get back into the game. Every player on the court scored for the Terps who were suddenly doing all the things they didn't in the first half-making shots, forcing turnovers, drawing fouls and, more importantly, being the aggressors.

The Tar Heels did not roll over, however, and responded with a quick 7-0 run of their own and appeared to regain control of the game. Maryland did not roll over either and quickly responded with a run of their own. An acrobatic reverse layup by D. J. Strawberry and two spectacular fast break dunks by Ibekwe highlighted an 16-4 run that cut Carolina's lead to single digits, 72-66.

A three-pointer by John Gilchrist drew the Terps within 82-79 with 4;52 remaining in the game, but McCants answered with a three of his own. Smith then missed a tough jumper and Melvin Scott scored on a breakaway to push the Tar Heels' lead up to five.

An Ibekwe follow (Maryland's third shot on that possession) pulled the Terps back within 87-83 with 2:59 left, but two free throws by Jawad Williams (he made 13-16 for the game) and a miss by Caner-Medley set the stage for McCants' back-breaking bank shot. After the game, Gary Williams said in jest “That doesn't count in my mind because he banked it off the glass.”

Understandably, Williams was frustrated with the way his team played in the first half, saying “it looked like we didn't practice all week.” It appeared that the week off (the Terps had not played since defeating Florida State last Sunday), hurt more than helped Maryland today.

Williams said “I liked the way we played in the second half; I didn't like the way we played in the first half. You can't spot a nationally ranked team 20 points and expect to win very often. That being said, we had our chances and then had a couple of bad possessions down the stretch.”
There was a lot to like about the way Terps played after halftime. The Terps shot 47% and forced 12 North Carolina turnovers. They were closer in the rebounding totals, trailing 20-16. The discrepancy in free throws was something Maryland could not overcome. The Tar Heels made 36 of a staggering 50 attempts, while the Terps made 20 of their 30 free throws.

Chris McCray came to life in the second half for the Terps, scoring eight straight points in one stretch and finishing with a team-high 16. Smith scored 14 point for Maryland, and all five starters were in double figures. The Terps had 21 bench points, eight each coming from Strawberry and Ibekwe, who played his best game in a while.

McCants continued his hot streak with 25 points to lead North Carolina. Jawad Williams scored 23, and May and Manuel each added 14. May increased his ACC lead in rebounding by pulling down 12 board today.

Three-point shooting continues to be a weak area for Maryland. They connected on only 6-21 from beyond the arc, which made their comeback effort even more difficult.

Their play in the second half could give them some momentum going into Thursday's game with Georgia Tech. With four home games and two road games remaining, Maryland is still on a pace to finish 8-8 in the conference if they can hold serve at home. That becomes imperative when you look at the sites of the two road games—Duke and NC State, the two best teams in the ACC.

Notes From Under the Shell
Maryland fell into seventh place in the ACC with their 4-6 record, but they are only one game out of third. Georgia Tech and Wake Forest, both 5-5 in the conference, share third place tonight and both teams still have to play at the Comcast Center. Someone will have to finish seventh, and it could be the Terps, but we are still a long way from finding that out.

Prior to today's game, Maryland had won five of their last six meetings with North Carolina, and five of their last eight visits to the Smith Center. The Tar Heels lead the all-time series 109-53.
This was Gary Williams' first loss to “the other Williams,” having won the three previous times their two teams had played (twice vs. Kansas, once vs. North Carolina).

The Terps are now 3-5 vs. ranked opponents (1-4 on the road). There are four teams remaining on the schedule now in the Top 25, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, Duke, and NC State.

North Carolina has the ACC's leading scorer (McCants), leading rebounder (May) and the leader in assists (Felton). So how can they have a losing record in the conference? If Gary Williams had three statistical leaders and was below .500 in the ACC, how much heat do you think he would be taking?

If Maryland's Jamar Smith and North Carolina's Jackie Manuel went head-to-head in a free throw shooting contest, would anyone win?

The day was not a total lost cause for Maryland fans—Duke lost. The Blue Devils dropped their first ACC game of the season, losing 78-74 at NC State.

Maryland's next game is Thursday night when they host Georgia Tech at 7 PM. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2.

Speaking of ESPN, did you notice that Dick Vitale was among the 16 finalists for the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame? Discuss.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

The People Behind the Voices

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

Many Maryland basketball (and football) fans have grown up listening to the voice of radio play-by-play announcer Johnny Holliday, now in his 25 th year of broadcasting Terrapin games. During the Terps game with UNC-Greensboro earlier this season, I had the opportunity to go behind the scenes with Johnny and the radio team to learn more about them and how they actually make a broadcast happen.

The crew consists of Johnny, analyst Chris Knoche, statistician Brett Bessell, and engineer Tom Marchitto. Watching the interaction between them helped me see why they work together so well.

Any good team is bound together by supporting each other. After the Terps' home loss to NC State, I asked Knoche what the problem was. “I blame the stats guy,” he told me.

Another key is having the mutual respect of one's co-workers. When Holliday brought up during a recent broadcast that his picture would soon be added to the Maryland Walk of Fame at the Comcast Center, his partner Knoche reacted enthusiastically. Knoche urged fans to rush out and see it because, “Marchitto will be there with a stepladder and a sharpie in a heartbeat,” apparently ready to add his own artistic impression.

Confidence is also a crucial part of a broadcaster's personality. During a timeout of the UNC-Greensboro game, Holliday turned to me and said, “You know, we have no idea what we're doing.”

Actually, nothing could be further from the truth.

Holliday's work begins two hours before tip-off when he records the pre-game show with Maryland Coach Gary Williams.

Johnny's style, honed over 40 years of interviewing rock stars, athletes, coaches, and other divas, is one that puts his guest at ease. Rather than feeling that an adversary is grilling them, Holliday's relaxed conversational approach makes the interviewee feel comfortable, even when difficult questions are asked.

The rapport between Holliday and Williams, nurtured over Gary's 15 years at Maryland, is very relaxed and comfortable. The pre-game show, as well as the televised coach's show, sounds like two neighbors leaning over their fence, taking a break from yard work on a Saturday morning.

Holliday makes this work because he still poses the questions that need to be asked. If the team is not playing well, or if there has been a problem with a particular player, Williams is asked why and what he plans to do about it. Johnny is such a polished pro that no one ever cuts an interview short, storms away in anger, or starts spewing profanity that needs to be edited.

The man who really has to deal with pressure before the game is engineer Tom Marchitto. There is no fixed broadcast unit on the floor at Comcast Center, requiring the radio wiring and equipment to be put up and torn down for each game. While Johnny finishes his interview with Coach Williams, Marchitto focuses on his task with an intensity that Williams would love to see in his players.

Before the games, analyst Chris Knoche has the task of interviewing the opposing coach. Knoche, who was a coach himself at American University, still approaches the game as a coach would. As a result, his pre-game interviews often sound like two coaches sitting down talking about the opponent over a beer (although none is actually served). Rather than an exercise in “coach-speak', these segments come across as cordial but informative conversations.

The last member of the radio team to arrive for a game is statistician Bret Bessell. Proclaimed “All-ACC Stats Man” by Holliday and Knoche, Bessell uses a very low-tech approach. Upon arriving at the scorer's table, Bret sets up his tools for the game. They include paper, pencils, and pens but, to my astonishment, there is no sign of a computer.

Bessell uses two stat sheets during every game. His primary one, for which the format has evolved over the years, includes all of the primary statistical information for every player on both teams. Bessell also uses a second sheet where he keeps a running score.

His system, which includes different colors for each half (he has five so he can keep up to three overtimes separated) and combinations of circles, slashes, and hash marks, would be indecipherable to an ordinary mortal. It comes very naturally to Bessell, who then feeds stats to Holliday and Knoche through their headsets during the game. When Johnny reports during a game “Maryland is on a 12-2 run”, that information has usually been relayed to him from Bessell a second earlier.

After hooking up and testing all of the equipment, Marchitto's primary concern is making sure Holliday and Knoche are in position for the start of the broadcast. The biggest obstacle to that is Johnny having to tear himself away from the steady stream of friends and well-wishers that make their way down to courtside before a game.

There doesn't seem to be anyone Johnny doesn't know, from local media, long-time Maryland supporters, former players, and out-of-town broadcasters. He always has either a personal connection to them that he can talk about, or he just brings out his sharp wit. The night I was there, Comcast Sports Net analyst Glen Consor walked over before the game to say hello to Holliday, who responded by saying, “You're not going to wear that tie during the broadcast, are you?”

Anyone is fair game for Holliday, who has been doing comedy and impressions throughout his 40+ year broadcasting career. After watching him record some public address announcements in the video control room at Comcast Center, I was entertained by his dead-on impression of Howard Cosell ordering dinner at an Italian restaurant. Like nearly everyone who is fortunate enough to come in contact with Johnny, I was left smiling.

Once the game starts, the broadcast team locks in and gives their typical professional performance. Marchitto is the traffic cop, timing commercial breaks and coordinating pre-recorded segments. Holliday is so smooth that he can be talking with someone only seconds before a break ends and roll back into the broadcast right on cue, regardless of the anxiety that creates for Tom.

Marchitto has been a radio engineer for 35 years. Most of his time was spent working at ABC Radio, where he met Johnny. Tom did it all at ABC, working events such as presidential press conferences and State of the Union Addresses. He has also traveled from Sarajevo to Sydney covering the Olympics.

Holliday approached Marchitto about working with the Maryland broadcast crew and, eight years ago, Tom decided that it was a good time to do so. Having moved up into a supervisory position at ABC, he was doing less work in the field and had enough flexibility to fit Maryland football and basketball games into his schedule. Recently retired from the network, Marchitto continues working Maryland games because “I enjoy the challenge of doing a live broadcast.” Although not a big sports fan, he “enjoys the college game because of its unpredictability.”

Once the game starts, Bessell is intensely focused on recording stats and relaying trends to Johnny and Chris. “There are times”, Brett told me, “when the action is at such a fast pace that I don't even have time to look up from my sheet. I rely on Johnny's description to keep up with the game.”

Brett, now a real estate appraiser by trade, was working in the marketing section of the Maryland athletic department 20 years ago when he approached Johnny about working with him. At the time, Holliday was broadcasting games of the Washington Federals football team in the USFL and needed a spotter. Bessell offered his services and Johnny accepted. The only problem was, Brett did not have the foggiest idea what a spotter did during a football game. Holliday helped him figure it out, and Bessell was a quick learner.

Brett spotted for Johnny at Maryland football games for three years before he began keeping stats, something he has done for 17 seasons. He became the basketball stats man during the 1983-84 season, which was the last time the Terps won the ACC Tournament. Bessell is now very much in demand, working games for ESPN and Fox Sports in addition to his schedule of Maryland contests.

Knoche is responsible for telling listeners why something has happened (or why it didn't) and anticipating how the next few minutes of a game will play out. Again, he effectively puts on his coach's hat to do this. Chris, who joined the Maryland team prior to the 1999-2000 season, obviously does his homework but, like when he coached, has few notes in front of him.

Knoche played for Gary Williams at American University during the 1979-80 and 1980-81
seasons after transferring from Colorado. He later became an assistant at American and ascended to the head coaching position, which he held for seven seasons (1991-97). Would he ever return to the sidelines? “I don't think you ever completely lose the coaching bug once it bites you,” he told me “but I'm very happy doing what I am right now.”

He relies on the knowledge of teams and players he has committed to memory and analyzes game action as if he was still standing on the sideline. Knoche even offers commentary on officiating during broadcasts, making sure to keep it G rated for the listening audience. His recognition of different defenses and offensive sets brings a level of understanding to listeners that they would be hard pressed to get elsewhere.

On this team, Holliday is the quintessential point guard. He is the person who sets the tone for his teammates and helps make them look good while deflecting credit from himself.

Holliday seamlessly works in advertising live-reads, entertaining anecdotes, background on players and coaches, and get-well wishes to Terrapin supporters during his play-by-play. Unlike Knoche, Johnny makes notes during his pre-game prep that he refers to during the broadcast. He deftly inserts little nuggets of information into his description of the game. Keeping with the low-tech theme of this crew, Holliday has his live read information on printed cards that are organized before the start of the broadcast. When he reads one, he simply tosses the card on the floor underneath his work area.

After the final buzzer, the post-game show begins with a brief summary of the action and an interview with Coach Williams. At home games, it is broadcast over the public address system at the Comcast Center, and Williams often addresses the fans directly.

Williams is the only coach I know of who does this so quickly after the conclusion of the game, never more than five minutes after the final buzzer and always before he has gone into the locker room. After a tough loss and with different broadcasters, this could be a volatile situation. The mutual respect Holliday, Knoche, and Williams have for each other prevent any problems. Johnny and Chris are also smart enough to know how far to go with questions and professional enough to not draw attention by provoking an explosion from Coach Williams.

The post-game is usually concluded with a player interview, then a review of the game's statistics. At this point, Marchitto unplugs and meticulously organizes his equipment, and Holliday cleans up the mess underneath his work area. Johnny then visits with another wave of friends, acquaintances, and any family that was at the game before calling it a night.

The opportunity I had to sit with the radio team reinforced in my mind what already came across so well on the air; these men have a great time doing these broadcasts. They genuinely enjoy the work and being in each other's company. All of them are at a point where they aren't doing this for the money, so why invest the time and effort into it? Tom Marchitto summed it up quite well, “There's no point in doing it if you aren't having fun.”

The next time you listen to a Maryland basketball game on the radio, just remember that as much enjoyment as you get from listening to the broadcast, the crew probably gets more from doing it.

To learn more about Johnny Holliday and his illustrious broadcasting career, I highly recommend reading his book “From Rock to Jock” available online or at your favorite bookstore.
Thanks to Johnny, Chris, Brett, and Tom for allowing me behind the scenes with them, making me feel so welcomed, and taking time to talk with me about what they do.

Monday, February 09, 2004

Terps Clamp Down on Seminoles for 73-62 Win

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

At halftime of today's Maryland-Florida State game, Coach Gary Williams faced the question of how to slow down Seminole star Tim Pickett, who had torched the Terps for 18 points in the first half. The answer was Chris McCray, who helped hold Pickett to two points in the second half in Maryland's 73-62 win over Florida State at the Comcast Center.

The key sequence of the game came with the Terps (13-7, 4-5) clinging to a 66-62 lead. Following a Seminole timeout with 1:16 remaining in the game, Florida State (16-7, 4-5) looked for Pickett to hit the key shot that would put pressure on Maryland. McCray practically crawled inside Pickett's jersey, however, forcing him to give the ball up. As a result, Adam Waleskowski had to throw up a wild shot just before the shot clock went off. Travis Garrison grabbed his tenth rebound of the game, and McCray and John Gilchrist closed out the win by converting seven of eight free throws.

Surprisingly for two of the better defensive teams in the ACC, both teams got off to a fast start offensively. Pickett and Nik Caner-Medley traded hoops and three-pointers to forge an early 5-5 tie, but a 7-0 run gave the Seminoles a 14-9 lead only 4:13 into the game.

At that point, D. J. Strawberry entered the game and, as he had done frequently earlier in the season, provided the spark that got the Terps right back in the game. A driving layup, a follow of a Garrison miss plus a free throw, and two free throws after following a McCray miss brought the Terps back within 19-17 and had the student section up and chanting “DJ, DJ!”

Later in the first half, a 10-0 Maryland run put them ahead 32-24. Three-pointers by Gilchrist and Mike Jones game the Terps the lead they would not relinquish the rest of the game.

Maryland went into the locker room ahead 39-38 despite the valiant efforts of Florida State's Pickett, who made all four of his three-pointers in the half. His 7-9 shooting and 18 points kept the Seminoles poised to make a move if he could get some help in the second half. Thanks to an outstanding defensive effort by the Terps, none was forthcoming.

The first few minutes of the second half was all about defense. Maryland outscored the Seminoles 8-7 in the first 9:58 after halftime, a radical departure from how the game had started. Three free throws by Florida State's Von Wafer cut the margin to only 45-44, but the Terps then embarked on a decisive 12-3 run to lead 57-47 with 7:34 remaining in the game.

The Seminoles crept back within striking distance by picking up their defensive effort. Florida State began having success playing the passing lanes and deflecting or stealing Terrapin entry passes. This difficulty getting the ball inside slowed Maryland's half court offense down and gave the Seminoles a chance to pull the game out.

It's difficult to play catch-up when your team shoots 22.2% (6-27) in a half, and that is the task that Florida State unsuccessfully took on. Pickett, fighting the Terps defense, foul trouble, and a late hip injury sustained when he crashed into the Maryland bench chasing a loose ball, went 0-6 in the second half. The Seminoles second leading scorer for the game with 15 points, Von Wafer, managed only 1-7 shooting after the break.

Maryland made up for 40% shooting by committing only 11 turnovers and holding Florida State to 32.8% for the game. The Terps also grabbed 17 offensive rebounds and held a 48-41 edge overall. Maryland took 23 three-pointers (making only 6), too many for this team to attempt if their offense is to run efficiently. Fortunately the defensive effort made that unnecessary.

Jamar Smith broke out of a slump with 16 points and 14 rebounds, both team highs. Coach Williams said, ”Jamar Smith really stepped it up as the game went on. When he's active, it really helps his rebounding and scoring.”

Caner-Medley, who hit a couple of big threes in the second half, added 14 points and 4 blocked shots. D. J. Strawberry, who led Terrapin scorers in the first half with 10 points, finished with 12. Garrison pulled down 10 rebounds for the second straight game.

John Gilchrist, after his dominating performance Wednesday, was held to 11 points, but Coach Williams still thought he played well. “I thought John played great. We were able to get the ball to the open people,” Williams said “and John had a lot to do with that.” Williams, who expected Florida State to give Gilchrist extra attention defensively after his big game at Virginia, was pleased at his team's balanced scoring. “If you're a team, you have to have people step up and we did today.”

The Terrapins, after back-to-back wins, are looking like a team these days; one that will still have to be reckoned with as the ACC season moves into its second half.

Notes From Under the Shell
Maryland is now in a four-way tie for fourth in the ACC with Florida State, Wake Forest, and North Carolina at 4-5. All four teams are only a half-game behind third-place Georgia Tech (4-4).

Maryland has won 16 of their last 18 meetings with Florida State, including 10 of the last 11 in College Park.

Jamar Smith tied his career high with 14 rebounds and posted his ninth double-double of the season. He is tied for the ACC lead in that category with North Carolina's Sean May.

As the Terps was wrapping up the victory at the free throw line, the Maryland student section taunted their vanquished opponents with the tomahawk chop and chant usually heard at games in Tallahassee. Okay, students, THAT was clever.

If you think Florida State's success this season is a fluke, think again. True, they lose seniors Tim Pickett, Michael Joiner, and Nate Johnson after this season, but they have already signed two top-30 recruits for next season; guards Jason Rich and Isaiah Swann. Coach Leonard
Hamilton is quickly laying the foundation for a very solid program.

Florida State has recorded three big ACC wins this season over Maryland, Wake Forest, and their miraculous comeback over North Carolina. All of those have come at home, however. They are now 0-4 on the road and already have losses at the two worst teams in the conference, Clemson and Virginia. The Seminoles have not won an ACC game on the road since defeating Clemson on March 3, 2001.

Maryland avoided their first three-game losing streak at Comcast Center with their win today. The Terps had not even lost back-to-back home games since the 1992-93 season. Maryland is now 24-4 at home since moving into the Comcast Center last season.

Incoming Ravens' owner Steve Bisciotti brought one of his employees to today's game, head coach Brian Billick. As Bisciotti told me with a wide grin, it was “a very expensive employee.” I wonder if Billick was named employee of the month and the award was a Terps courtside ticket. He probably already has his own parking spot at the office. Also dropping by was Washington Post columnist Tony Kornheiser. He actually stayed for the game this time despite being without his other half, Michael Wilbon.

Terrapin assistant coach Dave Dickerson was recently named the best-dressed assistant coach in the nation by I don't know how much that means, but it can't be a
bad thing. The man does look good!

Maryland has a week off until it's next game on Sunday, February 15 at North Carolina when they take on the Tar Heels at 3:30 PM. The game will be televised nationally on ABC.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Gilchrist Carries Terps Past Virginia 71-67

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

The Maryland Terrapins need a leader. Tonight, it was John Gilchrist accepting that mantle and carrying the Terps to a critical road victory at Virginia, 71-67.

John Gilchrist had been hearing some criticism of his play recently, but apparently none as harsh as his own. He told the Washington Times, "I felt like I was a disgrace to this university by letting the great teams of the past down. I felt like the ghost of this basketball program was haunting me in my sleep." His 26 points and 8 rebounds should chase the evil spirits away and certainly help Maryland fans sleep better.

The Terps (12-7, 3-5) won this game by doing two things well that have been problem areas at times this season, rebounding and defending the three-point shot. Maryland grabbed 24 offensive rebounds, helping offset their 35.8% shooting. Although Virginia (12-7, 2-6) did make 42.9% of their three-point attempts, their primary long-range threat, Todd Billet, only made one of four and scored but three points for the game. Chris McCray helped make up for his 0-5 shooting night by successfully shadowing Billet and denying him good looks at the basket.

The Cavaliers took a 12-5 lead and appeared to be in control of the game early on. They were giving the Terps fits with a pressing and trapping defense, and got several extra shots by pounding the offensive glass.

A three-pointer by Gilchrist ignited a 21-2 Maryland run that gave them a 26-14 lead. Another three, a conventional three-point play, and a driving layup gave Gilchrist 11 points in that burst. While he was preparing to shoot a free throw, I saw an intensity, perhaps even a righteous anger, in his eyes that seemed to say, “I'm not going to let us lose this game.” Starting in his home state for the first time, Gilchrist backed up that attitude with his play.

After calling three timeouts during the Terrapin run, Coach Pete Gillen's Virginia squad settled down and began working the ball inside to their big man, Elton Brown. After consistently scoring in double figures through the first half of the season, Brown's production had dropped off dramatically in ACC competition before his 24-point performance last Saturday at Wake Forest.
He picked up where he left off tonight, scoring 17 points in the first half.

Brown's scoring led the Cavaliers on a 13-1 run to draw within 31-29. Their defense was successful in getting the Terps' half-court offense out of sync, and their trapping caused Maryland players to twice call time outs to bail them out of trouble. The Terps called three time outs within 2:18 and were left with only one for the second half.

Gilchrist (21 points in the half) closed the first half with two free throws and a three that gave Maryland a 43-36 lead at halftime. As he had led them on the court, Gilchrist led his team into the locker room bounding and pumping his fist. Travis Garrison, regaining his spot in the starting lineup, played his most aggressive basketball of the season and pulled down nine rebounds in the first half.

Foul trouble quickly became an issue for Maryland in the second half. Garrison and Jamar Smith both headed to the bench with three fouls in the first 1:40 of the half, but Hassan Fofana came in and picked up some of the slack. Although he apparently spent too much time watching Smith shoot free throws (Fofana was 1-6 from the line), he hauled down 10 rebounds in only 20 minutes of playing time, easily his best performance of the season. Coach Williams said after the game, “I can't say enough about Hassan Fofana's progress.”

The Terps' halftime lead quickly dissipated with Brown and Derrick Byers leading Virginia on a 12-2 burst. Seeing his team now trailing 48-45, Maryland Coach Gary Williams burned his final timeout with 13:49 remaining in the game.

After tying the score three times, the Terps went on a decisive 8-0 run to take a 60-54 lead. Gilchrist had cooled off, but D. J. Strawberry, playing his best game in a while, picked up for him by following one of his misses, making 1-2 free throws, and coming up with a steal and taking it coast-to-coast for a three-point play.

Maryland's free throw shooting almost cost them down the stretch. The Terps converted only four of their final ten attempts from the line and left the door open for the Cavaliers. Virginia very nearly took advantage of this opportunity. A layup by Brown after spinning around Fofana and a three-pointer by Devin Smith cut Maryland's lead to 68-67.

After Nik Caner-Medley made only one of two free throws, the Cavaliers had the ball with a chance to take the last shot. D. J. Strawberry then made the most important play of the game, stealing the ball from Billet and taking it down the court on a breakaway. Strawberry missed the layup, but Gilchrist was there for the putback to ice the victory.

Afterwards, Gary Williams was not concerned about the artistic merits of his team's victory. “It wasn't pretty out there” Williams said, “That's the way we're going to have to play this season. Whatever it is, you've got to find a way to win.”

Gilchrist drew his coach's praise, “John did a great job of leadership as well as his scoring and rebounding. He would not allow us to lose this game tonight.”

Tonight, it was the opposing coach praising Maryland's play down the stretch, not the other way around. Virginia Coach Pete Gillen said, “I have to give Maryland credit, they made the big
plays when they had to.”

Despite a tough game with Florida State coming up on Sunday, Williams did not want to look ahead immediately, “We're just going to enjoy this. It's been a rough ride.”

The ACC schedule has indeed been a bumpy ride for these young Terrapins. With a 3-5 conference record after their first run through the league, Maryland could still reasonably finish anywhere from third to ninth. It will continue to be very interesting to watch as February plays out.

Notes From Under the Shell
Maryland now leads the all-time series with Virginia 96-64. The Terps have won 14 of the last 21 meetings. The Cavaliers swept Maryland last season.

Despite Gilchrist's performance tonight, the Maryland offense was, to put it politely, dysfunctional. Gilchrist had a strong stat line; 26 points, 9-21 shooting, 4-6 three-pointers, and 8 rebounds. However, he also had 9 turnovers. I counted at least three times when he threw a pass and the intended recipient was either cutting a different way or moving toward the hoop thinking Gilchrist would shoot. These mistakes should not be happening at this point of the season.

The Terps held a 49-38 edge in rebounding over a Virginia team that normally gets outrebounded anyway. Jamar Smith, who came in as the ACC's leading rebounder at 9.9 per game, pulled down only one tonight and fouled out in 17 minutes. Garrison finished with a career best 10 boards.

Maryland is not going to beat many teams left on their schedule by shooting 35.8% from the field (32.6% without Gilchrist), 5-16 from three-point range (1-10 without Gilchrist), and 18-36 from the free throw line (14-31 without Gilchrist). Caner-Medley was the second leading Maryland scorer with eight points. Elton Brown led Virginia with 24 points, and freshman guard J. R. Reynolds added 15.

Amazingly, Charlottesville's University Hall was over 1,000 short of a sellout tonight, drawing only 7,378 for their biggest conference rival. The only time Virginia has played in front of a full house this season was when Duke visited. The school is building a 15,000-seat arena across the street from U Hall that is scheduled to open for the 2006-07 season. They obviously have their work cut out trying to fill it.

The Terps are currently seventh in the ACC, but only one game out of third. Georgia Tech, Florida State, and Wake Forest currently share third with a 4-4 record. North Carolina could join them by beating Duke on Thursday, or create a tie for sixth with Maryland if they lose. Duke (7-0) and NC State (6-2) have separated themselves from the pack at this point.

Maryland's next game is on Sunday at 1PM when they host Florida State. The Seminoles (16-6, 4-4) are coming off an 81-65 win over Georgia Tech, a game in which they outscored the Yellow Jackets 48-30 in the second half. The game will be broadcast on the Raycom/Jefferson Pilot network.

Monday, February 02, 2004

Terps Stumble at Home, Lose to NC State 81-69

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

After Maryland's 81-69 loss to the visiting Wolfpack from NC State, it's not quite time for Maryland fans to push the panic button. It would be a good idea to have it handy, though.

Sometimes basketball can be a very simple game—the team that makes the most shots wins. NC State made them today from both the foul line and behind the three-point arc. The Wolfpack won with sizzling outside shooting, converting 10 of 19 three-pointers. They also cashed in on their free throw attempts, making 23 of 25 from the line.

Unlike their sensational start against Wake Forest Thursday night, the Terps (11-7, 2-5) staggered out of the gate today, trailing 9-0 following two threes and three free throws by State's Marcus Melvin. The Pack (12-4, 5-2) extended their lead to 13-2 by the first media timeout only 4:04 into the game.

The balance of the first half was an uphill struggle for Maryland, but they were able to fight their way back to even at halftime. A 9-4 Terrapin spurt brought them within 23-15, and they closed the half on a 10-4 run. Jamar Smith began asserting himself on the interior for Maryland, scoring three hoops and dishing off for two assists in those bursts.

State's Julius Hodge single-handedly held the Terps at bay, scoring 12 straight and 16 of his team's 18 points in the later stages of the first half.

Chris McCray's seven points led the Terps' scoring in the half which saw they shoot 50%, although they were 0-7 from three-point range.

The Pack quickly jumped out to a 43-38 lead in the second half. Maryland then scored six straight points on a Nik Caner-Medley three-pointer and free throw and a short jumper by Smith and took their first lead of the game, 44-43, with 14:19 to play.

The game briefly see-sawed, but Hodge's third straight hoop gave NC State a 49-48 lead with 11:09 left that they would never relinquish. Three straight three-pointers within 1:55 by the Wolfpack, two by Engin Atsur and one by Scooter Sherrill highlighted a decisive 15-5 run that gave State a 62-49 lead.

Williams called a time out with 6:46 to try and regroup his team, and they responded with an 8-2 burst that cut the lead to 67-63. Again, Maryland's success was keyed by their ability to penetrate the Wolfpack zone defense and get the ball inside to Jamar Smith, who either scored or created opportunities for his teammates.

The smallest player on the court, State's Atsur, made the biggest shot of the game. With the shot clock approaching zero, Atsur drained yet another three and ended the Terps' final threat. His hoop gave the Wolfpack a 70-63 lead with 2:43 remaining, and took the life out of a raucous crowd. State, the best foul shooting team in the ACC closed the game out at the line.

Afterwards, a frustrated Coach Williams was somewhat philosophical about this game and what lies ahead for his team. He spoke about the Terps' effort today, “We were too passive out there at times and they made us pay. We have to put the ball in the basket when we have our shots. Maybe we can't make NC State shots, but we need to make our shots.”

Regarding NC State, Williams said, “They're a tough team to play from behind against because of their patience.”

Williams also looked at where his team stood at this point in the season and making their 11 th consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament, “We're still trying to become a consistent basketball team for 40 minutes. If that happens, we can do it. It hasn't happened yet.”

“It's on me to do a better job teaching,” Williams added. “My job is to make them a good team. We're not there yet. The battle continues. I'm looking forward to the challenge of getting to work tomorrow and seeing what we can do.”

Maryland, after losing their second conference game at home this season, has very little margin of error left before we replace speculation about NCAA with three different letters—NIT.

Student Section, Continued (and hopefully ended)
After walking onto the court to the customary ovation from the student section, Maryland Coach Gary Williams broke with pre-game tradition and took the microphone, clearly and decisively addressing those students.

Williams told them, “It seems like we've been on the road a lot this season. During that time we've probably heard every obscenity there is. That being said, we cannot have obscene chants, we can not wear obscene t-shirts. We're too good for that. It only hurts us with officials, hurts how we are perceived across the country. It's got to stop. Help us win the games. Thank you!”

In the post-game press conference, Williams strongly defended his team's fans. “I thought our crowd was great today,” Williams said. “To say that the University of Maryland is worse than any other school in the nation is completely untrue. That's just the feeding frenzy that goes on here when the Redskins don't have practice. Every place we've played this season I've heard obscene things yelled from their crowd. This crowd has been great for us ever since I've been here. They were great my first year here, and they're great now.”

These statements are not likely to calm some of the ridiculous criticism that has been directed at him from places like the Duke Basketball Report, but he gets high marks from this writer.

There were no incidents in the crowd today. The true test will likely come with Duke's visit next season.

Notes From Under the Shell
This was the eighth time the Terps have played on Super Sunday. They split the previous eight games, including going 2-2 vs. NC State.

After Maryland's loss today they now trail the Wolfpack by 69-65 in their all-time series. The Terps have now won ten of their last 11 games vs. NC State. The Wolfpack has now low 15 straight in College Park, last defeating Maryland during the 1988-89 season.

Jamar Smith ended his scoring slump with a team-high 21 points today. Caner-Medley, with 10 points, was the only other Terp in double figures. John Gilchrist had another tough day shooting, making only 4-12.

NC State was led by Hodge with a season-high 28 points and freshman Atsur, who set a new career-best with 16 points (4-5 from three-point range). Hodge, perhaps the best all-around player in the ACC, added 9 rebounds and 5 assists. The Wolfpack was 8-11 from beyond the arc in the second half despite coming in only shooting 32.1% from three-point range.

D. J. Strawberry's role in the Terps' rotation is diminishing while Mike Jones' is increasing. Chris McCray handled the back up point-guard duty today instead of Strawberry, and Jones' 10 minutes of playing nearly equaled Strawberry's 11. With Maryland's difficulties in their half-court offense (the Wake Forest first half excepted), expect this trend to continue.

Look for Travis Garrison to reclaim his spot in the starting lineup. Coach Williams said, “We have to figure out a way to come out of the locker room ready to play.” Assuming no one has been spiking their water, it would seem Garrison needs to take Ibekwe's spot. Garrison scored 7 points and grabbed 5 rebounds on 29 minutes of action today, while Ibekwe did not score and had only two rebounds in 11 minutes..

On a day when you would expect all of the NFL owners to be attending that big football game they played today, Ravens' incoming owner Steve Bisciotti was occupying his usual seat courtside at Comcast Center. Good call, Steve!

Terps football coach Ralph Friedgen was very visible at Comcast today, hosting a large group of potential members of what is expected to be an outstanding recruiting class.

Maryland's next game is at Virginia on Wednesday at 9 PM and will be televised on the Raycom/JP network. Make no mistake, folks, this is a must win game for the Terps.