Will Terps recover from this lesson?

December 09, 1997|By KEN ROSENTHAL

WASHINGTON -- Big picture first: No one should be surprised that Maryland lost to George Washington last night, not when it was playing its third game in five days, not when it was coming off an emotional upset of Kansas.

"This is a good lesson for us," coach Gary Williams said. "Each time you go out, especially after you have a good win, teams get ready to play against you. You have to be ready. Once we start our [Atlantic Coast Conference] season, there aren't too many nights off."

No there aren't, and in the end a 70-66 loss to GW in early December will amount to what Williams called "a good teaching tool," an ordeal to be revisited every time the Terps start feeling good about themselves after an important ACC win.

Williams reminded the Terps yesterday that they fell behind the same GW team, 16-3, in last year's Franklin Bank Classic final after beating California in the first round.

That time, the Terps recovered.

This time, they did not.

Which leads to the hows and whys of last night's defeat, and two questions that won't go away. One, can Maryland win big this season with Terrell Stokes at point guard? And two, can Calvert Hall's Juan Dixon help this team?

Dixon, a 6-foot-2, 150-pound freshman sharp-shooter, is now academically eligible to play, and will begin practicing with the Terps on Dec. 21.

He might be out of shape. He might be too frail to compete in the ACC. But on a night when Maryland couldn't hit a three-pointer down the stretch, he certainly seemed like an intriguing possibility.

Williams is already using two freshmen, Mike Mardesich and Terence Morris, in his eight-man rotation. Still, Dixon would hardly be a savior, especially when you consider that Maryland's biggest problem last night was that it took too many jump shots.

When was the last time you can remember a Maryland team playing almost an entire half without drawing the required seven fouls to shoot bonus free throws? It didn't happen often, if at all, when Keith Booth was at College Park. But it happened in the second half last night.

"We didn't have much patience," Williams said. "We scored so well in the first half [against Kansas], we thought we'd come out and do the same thing. Some nights are like that. You have to run a good half-court offense. We didn't tonight."

Sarunas Jasikevicius was even more blunt.

"Absolutely pathetic," was his assessment of the half-court offense.

Stokes wasn't solely responsible, but on a night when GW's 5-foot-4 Shawnta Rogers lit up Maryland for a game-high 23 points, the 6-foot junior couldn't escape scrutiny.

Williams spoke of his loyalty to Stokes after the victory over Kansas, but even in that game, the point guard had no assists. His stats last night were better -- five points, seven assists, one turnover -- but as was the case at Clemson, the Terps collapsed at the end.

Stokes said the offense was "out of sync," acknowledged that the Terps didn't play with the same intensity. To be sure, it wasn't all his fault. Even when Maryland pounded the ball inside, its bigger players shot turnarounds and fadeaways.

Williams, no stranger to mind games, knows how badly he needs Stokes, which might explain his heartfelt endorsement on Sunday. His only other option is a point guard-by-committee using Jasikevicius, Matt Kovarik and Laron Profit. Not very appealing.

The Terps lack not only a take-charge point guard, but also a pure go-to guy like Booth. Profit is the obvious choice, but he's streaky. Rodney Elliott is emerging, but he has fouled out in five of Maryland's seven games.

Not that Williams necessarily minds it this way.

"The balance we have right now, I'd like to keep all year long," he said.

"Last year, let's face it, if you could stop Keith Booth, we were in big trouble. This year, if you stop Rodney Elliott, we can still win the game."

True enough, but the Terps shot only 23.1 percent after trailing at halftime, 39-37. They failed to hit a shot out of their set offense in the final 6: 25 of the first half. And they made only one basket in the final 3: 34 of the second half -- with 0.8 of second remaining.

Which brings us back to Dixon, who could turn out to be Maryland's best shooter since Matt Roe, a transfer from Syracuse who played at College Park in 1991.

Williams chose to retain four years of eligibility for LaRon Cephas in a similar situation last season. And he now concedes that Mardesich benefited from sitting out, a decision that was made by the player's family.

Dixon?

"Anytime you have a shooter like Juan coming in, you want to take a look at him," Williams said. "That's the skill that's missing at every level of basketball."

Said Dixon's high-school coach, Mark Amatucci: "Regardless of his physical liabilities, he can play. He's not intimidated. He's not in awe of the ACC. When he gets in the groove, he shoots threes like people shoot layups. But he's got a lot of ground to make up."

Again, it was only one loss, a loss in early December to a team that had far greater incentive. This game was such a setup, you almost could have predicted the outcome. The question is, was this the aberration, or was Kansas?

Pub Date: 12/09/97

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