Baxter playing wait, see

Terps reserve offers rebounding potential

January 27, 1999|By Bill Free | Bill Free,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- Remember Lonny Baxter?

He's the burly freshman forward who played his way into the hearts of Maryland fans with a powerful performance earlier this month against Duke at Cole Field House.

Baxter, 6 feet 8, 250 pounds, bruised the No. 2 Blue Devils with 10 points and seven rebounds in an impressive, 14-minute stint that figured to increase his playing time.

Baxter stunned Duke on the final play of the first half, when he tore past the entire team to ram home a shot that lifted the Terps into a come-from-behind tie at intermission.

"The Duke game has to be my biggest thrill," he said. "I really thought we were going to win it when we came from 11 down to get the tie. But everything fell apart in the second half."

It seemed as if Baxter had arrived just in time to give Gary Williams the luxury of going often to a big lineup of 6-10 Obinna Ekezie at center, Baxter at power forward, 6-9 Terence Morris at small forward, 6-5 Laron Profit at shooting guard and 6-3 Steve Francis at point guard.

Williams said after the Duke game that Baxter had earned more playing time and he would try to get him on the court more often.

However, it hasn't happened.

Baxter, like the other reserves for Maryland (18-2, 6-1 Atlantic Coast Conference), has watched his playing time decrease lately, and he didn't play in Sunday's 81-79 overtime victory over Clemson.

"That was probably a coaching mistake," Williams said yesterday of his failure to get Baxter in the Clemson game. "As soon as the game was over, I realized I should have found a way for him to play. I went and talked to him Sunday about it."

No big deal, said Baxter, who at least on the outside is taking the recent lack of playing time in stride.

"I'm not worried about minutes," he said. "We just had a tough game at Clemson, and the coach made the decision not to play me."

Not a bad attitude for a player whose 28 points in 18 minutes against North Texas still stand as the most scored by a Maryland player in one game this season.

"Lonny's the best," said Williams. "I thought he could play. He has a great nose for the ball. Certain guys attract the ball. He's just a natural on the offensive boards."

Baxter said there are two secrets to his knack for grabbing offensive rebounds.

"Discipline and going after every loose ball," said Baxter, who is averaging 5.0 points and 3.1 rebounds in 10.2 minutes a game. "You'll never be a good offensive rebounder unless you're willing to work hard all the time."

Tonight, Baxter would love to celebrate his 20th birthday by coming off the bench and contributing in a big way against Florida State in an 8 p.m. game at Cole Field House.

The Seminoles come to Cole as the surprise team in the ACC, tied for third with North Carolina in the league with a 5-2 mark and sporting an 11-7 overall record.

"Florida State has been out to prove a lot ever since Karim Shabazz left," Baxter said of the 7-2 center who transferred to Providence before Christmas. "They also were steaming about being picked to finish eighth or ninth in the league."

The Seminoles have lost only to Duke and North Carolina in league play and are led by 6-8 junior forward Ron Hale (16.6 points) and 6-5 senior guard Terrell Baker (14.6 points).

Florida State coach Steve Robinson said: "We're looking forward to going into Cole Field House and playing at a high level. Not too many people have found any areas to attack Maryland because their talent is as good as anybody's in the country. Their strength is in numbers."

Williams was still miffed yesterday over Sunday's ESPN report that said Steve Francis had already told the Maryland coaches he was leaving school for the NBA next season.

"There are a lot of people around here who are willing to give misinformation," said Williams. "It's always been that way at Maryland. I don't know why. That's just the way it is. People out there get jealous for whatever reason and try to hurt us. It was all a setup. But they can't hurt us that way. The only way to hurt us is on the court."

Terps tonight

Opponent: Florida State

Site: Cole Field House, College Park

Time: 8

TV/Radio: ESPN2/WBAL (1090 AM)

Line: Maryland by 20 Pub Date: 1/27/99

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