Terps' No. 1 task now is to regroup

February 04, 1999|By KEN ROSENTHAL

DURHAM, N.C. -- They're not as good. The scoreboard says it, everyone in college basketball knows it. The Maryland Terrapins need to get used to the idea. And they need to move forward.

If anything, last night's 95-77 loss to Duke should provide a strange sort of release for the No. 7 team in the country. They're not as good as Duke. Maybe no team is as good as Duke. So, what are the Terps going to do about it?

Will they sulk, bicker and disintegrate?

Or, will they regroup?

Coach Gary Williams told the players after the game that they had a chance to be one of the best teams in Maryland history, or one of the biggest disappointments.

"Everyone on our team has got to look at themselves in the mirror," Steve Francis said. "If we want to win, we've got to win as a team. Not because of what the coach tells us. We've got to believe in ourselves."

Francis said that Duke played harder than Maryland last night. Laron Profit agreed, saying, "We're selling ourselves short by not giving 100 percent, not playing the way we're capable of playing."

You wouldn't expect the players to concede, but the Blue Devils have won 17 straight games, 34 straight at Cameron Indoor Stadium. They deserve to be ranked No. 1. They rate the edge over Maryland at virtually every position.

Will Avery is better than Terrell Stokes. Elton Brand is better than Obinna Ekezie. Chris Carrawell is more consistent than Profit. And last night, Shane Battier outscored Terence Morris, 27-7.

"They play with so much pride and so much energy, it's tough to beat them, especially here," Profit said. "We've got to get the same hunger back we had earlier."

Six regular-season games remain, then the ACC tournament, then the NCAAs. The Terps probably wouldn't meet Duke again until the ACC final and/or the Final Four. They should only get that far in both tournaments.

That's four straight blowouts in this series, four losses by an average of nearly 24 points. It wasn't as if the Terps weren't ready last night. It wasn't as if they didn't compete. And it wasn't as if Williams didn't pull out every stop, particularly in the first half.

The Terps pressed. They played box-and-ones on Avery and Trajan Langdon. They collapsed on Brand and rotated three defenders on Avery.

Nothing worked.

Nothing worked because Duke also has Battier, Carawell and Nate James. Nothing worked because Maryland shot 41.2 percent, committed 13 first-half turnovers and again got blown out at the start of the second half.

In the Jan. 3 meeting, the teams were tied 37-37 at halftime when Duke went on a 13-0 run in the first five minutes. Last night, the Blue Devils led 50-40 at the half, then outscored Maryland 22-8.

"I was really disappointed about how we came out in the second half," Williams said. "Against Duke, you can't be less than ready to play. I questioned just how ready we were to start that second half."

Ultimately, that's Williams' responsibility, but his players looked lost, forcing shots, making poor decisions. Battier hit three three-pointers in a span of 3: 08, and the Blue Devils built a 27-point lead. It was over.

Duke placed six players in double figures, with Battier hitting 10 of his 13 shots and all four of his threes. Duke shot 43.2 percent in the first half and still scored 50 points. Duke ran up and down and beat Maryland at its own game.

"I really respect Maryland," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "Maryland is as talented as anyone we play. If we play them again, I'll have the same respect for them. I know they can beat us. We prepare that way."

Krzyzewski was just being gracious. Williams lauded Duke's ball-handling -- "there's nobody they're afraid to throw the ball to in any situation." He also bemoaned his team's lack of consistency on defense, and on the boards.

The loss dropped Maryland (19-4, 7-3) three games behind Duke (22-1, 10-0) in the ACC regular-season race. It also extended Williams' decade-long frustration against Krzyzewski.

Williams is 2-19 against Coach K since arriving at College Park, 0-9 at Cameron. The Terps' struggles against Duke go back even further. They've lost 28 of their last 33 games against the Blue Devils, with only one victory at Cameron since 1988.

To think, Maryland could have been on the verge of its first No. 1 ranking if it hadn't lost to Wake Forest on Sunday, with last night's game setting up as a winner-take-all. ESPN had planned live "Game Night" coverage from outside Cameron, then abandoned it.

Now, the Terps must deal with their first losing streak of the season, and a likely No. 2 seed in an NCAA Regional. Even worse, they must deal with the reality that they're vastly inferior to their biggest conference rival.

They're finished with the Blue Devils, at least for now. Profit said Maryland has "done too many good things" to allow the season to crumble. Williams also spoke optimistically.

"If we get 24 or 25 wins, what kind of year is that?" Williams asked. "Every team I know would take that, except the one we played tonight."

That team is special. That team is Duke.

Pub Date: 2/04/99

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