Homework done, UM hits road

Terps visit N.C. State for first ACC game at 'Pack's new arena

Trip test for young players

Team has only played at Cole or neutral sites

January 06, 2000|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- On the road again.

Finally.

The Maryland basketball team hustled through airports for the first time last evening. The Terps were dealt their only lumps at Madison Square Garden and MCI Center, and the nation's No. 12 team takes to an opponent's floor for the first time tonight at 7 at North Carolina State.

The Atlantic Coast Conference opener for both drips with symmetry. It will be the first ACC game played at the 19,722-seat Entertainment and Sports Arena, the Wolfpack's new home in Raleigh. Yesterday, Maryland's freshmen got the news that all systems are go for their senior season to be played at a new on-campus arena.

"This is going to be a new experience for us," said Drew Nicholas, the reserve guard. "We've played in front of enough crowds, in front of enough people, that we're used to it. If it's different, it's because it's a league game. The young guys are smart enough to know that this is a totally different ballgame we're getting into."

Nicholas is one of four freshmen among coach Gary Williams' first nine players.

"It's the first ACC game in their [N.C. State's] new building," Williams said. "The excitement is there, and we'll have to handle that. We haven't been in a tough home-court environment. We have played some really good teams, played in the Garden, and that's pretty good experience for anybody."

It is not Maryland's latest road opener ever. Five years ago, Maryland's road opener came Jan. 7 at North Carolina, although that came with an asterisk, because the 1994-95 season began against host team Chaminade at the Maui Invitational. In 1976-77, Lefty Driesell's Terps didn't play an away game until Jan. 19, at Clemson.

Thus far, Maryland (11-2) has played only at Cole Field House, where it is 8-0, and on neutral courts. Its top wins were over Kentucky, Illinois, Iowa and Tulane. The losses came to Kentucky in the semifinals of the Preseason NIT in New York, and in the title game of the BB&T Classic, to a George Washington team that outworked Maryland.

Like the Colonials, the Wolfpack (9-1) can't match the Terps' accomplishments, but they have emotion on their side. N.C. State last went to the NCAA tournament in 1991, but coach Herb Sendek's fourth team is deep for a change, playing strong defense and getting balanced scoring. He has six players averaging between 12.8 and 8.2 points.

Maryland is looking to stretch its streak of NCAA tournament appearances to seven with one of Williams' youngest teams. Despite their early success, the Terps go on the road still in search of a mix that will serve them well in March.

Freshman point guard Steve Blake isn't the only Terp making his first road start. Shooting guard Juan Dixon and small forward Danny Miller are doing the same, and all should benefit from the recent addition of football quarterback Calvin McCall, as Williams fixed a thin roster before it broke down.

"We were playing a lot of minutes," Williams said of his perimeter people. "You get a guy up around 35 minutes a game, with the pace of the college game nowadays, maybe that's not good."

Fatigue has been a factor for a lean backcourt. Dixon, who had been averaging 34 minutes before McCall joined routs of UMBC and Coastal Carolina, has missed his last 17 three-pointers, dating to George Washington on Dec. 5. Blake's assist (5.8) to turnover (4.7) ratio needs to improve.

McCall's arrival, meanwhile, spurred Miller to be more active.

Williams prefers an eight-man rotation, and whether McCall moves ahead of freshman forward Tahj Holden or the coach expands his options, Maryland has to maintain the passing and inside-out approach that produced several significant wins.

Maryland has one of the ACC's most unappreciated players in sophomore center Lonny Baxter, not to mention Preseason Player of the Year Terence Morris. The junior forward from Frederick has let his younger teammates feel their way and find their places, and now it's time for him to become more assertive.

"He's playing great," Williams said of Morris. "His rebounding, his passing have been really good. [But] when you have a guy who can shoot like Terence, who's 6-9, you've got to make sure he gets his shot."

It's reassuring to head into unfamiliar territory with something reliable to lean on.

NOTES: Williams was one of the few visitors sorry to see N.C. State leave Reynolds Coliseum, where Maryland won its last five games. N.C. State came back from double-digit deficits to beat Georgia and Purdue. The Wolfpack leads the ACC in most defensive categories, but is last in free-throw percentage, .605. Sophomore guard Anthony Grundy leads N.C. State with a 12.8 scoring average, while freshman forward Damien Wilkins is at 9.9. Wilkins starred at St. John's Prospect Hall before he spent last season at Orlando's Dr. Phillips High. Two years ago, McCall was one of the top players there.

Terps tonight

Opponent: N.C. State

Site: Entertainment and Sports Arena, Raleigh, N.C.

Time: 7

TV/Radio: ESPN2/WBAL (1090 AM)

Line: Maryland by 1

Nice debuts

The Entertainment and Sports Arena in Raleigh, N.C., will hold its first ACC game tonight when Maryland takes on N.C. State. Besides Cole Field House, the Terps are 5-2 in their inaugural games at the conference's seven other current venues:

School UM debut Result

Clemson 2/22/68 W, 84-83

Duke 1/30/40 L, 48-37

Florida State 2/5/91 W, 93-85

Georgia Tech 12/23/80 W, 66-55

North Carolina 2/20/86 W, 77-72*

Virginia 2/16/66 W, 71-64

Wake Forest 2/24/90 L, 84-74

Source: Maryland. *-overtime

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