COLLEGE PARK -- With an amiable countenance combined with a bite mark on his right elbow and stitches above his left eye, Maryland's Cedric Lewis hardly looks the part of the intimidator.
But these days, the word "force" looks as natural on the back of Lewis' jersey as his last name.
The 6-foot-9 senior center is continuing to make an impressive and startling transformation from defensive specialist to all-around player.
"It's coming from within, because I want to prove a lot of people wrong," said Lewis, who will be in the pivot tonight when the Terps play UMBC at Cole Field House.
They don't give a most improved player award in the Atlantic Coast Conference, but Lewis, whose 10.6-point average is more than triple his 3.0 career figure, will cement that mythical honor if he continues at this pace.
No one could be more pleased than his Maryland teammates and coaches.
"Cedric Lewis is a great defensive player and a very good basketball player," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, after watching Lewis thoroughly dominate Clemson center Dale Davis Saturday. Lewis had 17 points and 12 rebounds to go along with six blocks in the Terps' 81-65 win here.
"I said from the beginning of the season that Ced was going to be the surprise offensive star of this team," said guard Walt Williams, the Terps' acknowledged star.
Although he still doesn't resemble Akeem Olajuwon or David Robinson, and probably never will, Lewis has worked hard on improving his offensive arsenal.
His jump-hook is significantly better than it was in his first three years at Maryland, and on Saturday, Lewis exhibited an ability to move well in traffic, with a nice drive down the lane.
But nowhere has Lewis' progression as an offensive player been more pronounced than at the free throw line, where he is shooting 70 percent, a dramatic improvement from his career figure of 46 percent.
And he is handling the questions about his success from the line with his characteristic good humor.
"If I make the first free throw or even if it's not such a bad miss that it doesn't clang out into the crowd, I don't feel so bad," said Lewis.
"If you shot free throws the way I did last year, you'd have to have a sense of humor, too."
"He's doing it on both ends of the court," said sophomore forward Evers Burns. "I'm glad he's got his chance. I think he's going pro, especially with the way he plays defense."
Lewis' play on the defensive end is still his trademark, and, to date, it has been stellar. He leads the ACC and is third nationally in blocks with 4.9 per contest.
His defensive skills were impressively displayed against Davis, a first-team All-ACC selection last year and the consensus choice as the best low-post player in the league.
With a little help from his teammates, Lewis held Davis to nine points, 11 below his average, marking the first time in 13 games the clearly frustrated Davis had failed to score in double figures.
"I was fronting him and they [Clemson] were trying to lob it over me," said Lewis. "But the weak side help was here from my teammates."
Those teammates, however, won't let Lewis give up the credit for his defense so easily.
"I feel so much better when Cedric is out there," said sophomore guard Kevin McLinton. "I can't say enough about him and his defense."
"It allows me to be more active," said Walt Williams. "I don't have to worry about somebody going around me, because if they do, I know it's coming right back out [a blocked shot]."
More than anyone, Lewis is benefiting from the absence of Tony Massenburg and Jerrod Mustaf. Their departure for the NBA has made Lewis the focus of the front line, and so far he has made the most of the opportunity.
"Sometimes, in that situation, guys come in and do a great job or they don't," said Gary Williams.
"Cedric's just taken on the challenge. That's what you tell your players: When you get your chance, you have to do it."
So far, Cedric Lewis is just doing it.