COLLEGE PARK -- Cedric Lewis has undergone a startling transformation as an offensive player since his freshman year at Maryland.
When he first arrived, Lewis couldn't have put the ball in Chesapeake Bay if he had been standing on the bridge. His specialty was shooting bricks. There was no sign he would develop the shooting touch of his older brother Derrick, who was then the Terps' star.
That was during the 1987-88 season. Cedric plodded along, laboring three years as a reserve and progressing primarily as a shot blocker. He entered his final season as a senior tri-captain with a flyspeck career scoring average of 3.1.
The transformed Cedric Lewis stepped forward immediately. When he scored 15 points in last night's 72-69 victory over American University before 6,233 in Cole Field House, it was his 14th game in double figures this season and 11th straight.
Coach Gary Williams attributes the 6-foot-9 Lewis' 12.3 scoring average to more time on the court and the fact that last year's big men, Tony Massenburg and Jerrod Mustaf, are no longer around. Lewis has started all 19 games and leads the Terps in minutes.
"He's getting the opportunity to play and he's confident," Williams said. "With the other two guys gone, Cedric knows he has to score."
Lewis feels his shooting wasn't as bad as it was painted in his early years. Summer after summer, he has worked on his game with Derrick, who is playing in France.
"I think I had a shooting touch all along," Lewis said. "I just perfected it more. Well, it's still not perfect, but it's coming
along. Derrick has been helping me. Now I'm getting the opportunity to use it."
Much as Williams appreciates Lewis' offensive improvement, it was a block by the center that was one of the key plays last night. With 17 seconds remaining and Maryland leading, 68-67, Lewis rejected Ron Davenport's shot.
"I saw the ball go up, stabbed and got a little piece of it," Lewis said. "Garfield got the rebound and that turned the game around."
Garfield Smith not only got the rebound; smiling all the while, he ++ also sank four free throws in the remaining moments to clinch it for the Terps (12-7).
"I always smile in those situations," said Smith, a junior college transfer who was named Atlantic Coast Conference Rookie of the Week after averaging 14 points and six rebounds in two victories last week. "I enjoy them. When the game's on the line, I relax."
American had no business making the game so close, of course. The Eagles (8-9) were coming off a 12-point loss to Navy, for heaven's sake.
"You can't say a team is bad just because of a loss to a team people say they should beat," Lewis said. "Remember, we lost last year at Coppin State."
American had a two-point edge at halftime, was up by seven midway through the second half and still had an edge of five with less than four minutes left. The Terps didn't inch ahead for good until Smith holed two free throws with a minute remaining.
Williams didn't feel it was a matter of the Terps having their guard down after Saturday's intoxicating upset of North Carolina State.
"We did seem a step slow compared to Saturday," Williams acknowledged. "We couldn't get up on their shooters.
"But the thought never came to my mind that we wouldn't make a run at them. These kids don't quit. But I hope we learned a lesson, that anybody on our schedule can beat us, just as we can beat anyone."
Maryland has won four straight and is 4-1 since losing its best player, Walt Williams, to a broken leg. Next up, Friday on the road, is Georgia Tech.
Maryland guard Walt Williams is recovering more rapidly than expected from the broken fibula he suffered against Duke Jan. 12.
Williams was scheduled to wear a lower leg cast for up to four weeks, but had it removed just two weeks after the injury. He now wears a walking boot, which he can remove during classes, when he sleeps and other times when he is still for long periods.
This week, in addition to work on a stationary bicycle, Williams is having daily aquatic workouts. His leg will be re-examined next week, when it will be determined if he can begin limited activity without the boot.
During his absence, Matt Roe has asserted himself, leading the team in scoring in all five games.
Roe had 17 points in last night's win, followed by Smith with 16 and Lewis with 15. The Eagles were led by Brock Wortman (23) and Brian Gilgeous (21).
Matt Downing is questionable for Friday's game at Georgia Tech after his shoulder popped out of joint again. The reserve guard from Atchison, Kan., has been plagued by the problem since he first hurt his shoulder last year at Dodge City Community College.
"It's loose and it doesn't take much to pop it," Downing said. "I'm going to try to play Friday."