To soothe sting, UM needs shots

Off-mark Terps look to get healthy, score 1st ACC win vs. Ga. Tech

Jackets' front line imposing

Williams' plan: convert baskets off pressure

January 15, 2000|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- At times in its first two Atlantic Coast Conference games, Maryland was unsettled by the physical ferocity of the opposition. The Terps have been a bit unsure of themselves, an odd approach for a basketball team ranked No. 18 in the nation.

All Maryland has to do to restore its toughness and confidence is knock down a few jump shots.

The Terps' inside-out philosophy will be tested at 8 tonight at Georgia Tech, which has one of the conference's more imposing front lines in center Alvin Jones and forward Jason Collier. Maryland (11-4, 0-2) thinks its pressure can wreak havoc on the Yellow Jackets (7-7, 0-2), but if the Terps are determined to get out of the ACC cellar, they might also want to start hitting some jumpers.

Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins, facing renewed questions about his job security, said he wants "to see us playing the exciting brand of basketball we've played in the past."

Maryland's Gary Williams doesn't want to harken back to 1996 -- the last time the Yellow Jackets made the NCAA tournament -- just November and December.

Williams said that he "separated" the recent losses to North Carolina State and Duke, but in both the Terps dug themselves big holes and rarely settled into a comfortable rhythm with their half-court offense.

Because Maryland has been unable to consistently hit outside shots, opponents are collapsing on preseason ACC Player of the Year Terence Morris and center Lonny Baxter.

The Terps were limited to four three-pointers in both of their ACC losses, and the last two against Duke came in the final 90 seconds, when the game was out of reach. They made four medium-range shots against the Wolfpack, and five against the Blue Devils, but only one in the second half. Granted, nothing was falling for Maryland in Sunday's setback.

"You make some shots, everyone relaxes and it becomes a lot easier," Williams said.

Sophomore guard Juan Dixon appears confident with his pull-up jumper, but he has missed 21 straight three-point attempts, a terrible slump for a scorer who hit 37.1 percent of his shots behind the arc last year. Danny Miller, the other starting wing, has become Maryland's most reliable three-point shooter, but he's been indecisive on closer attempts.

Those shots could be a factor tonight, because Georgia Tech prides itself on its interior defense. Jones, a junior, has 284 blocks in his career.

"It's almost impossible to score on them inside," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said before the Blue Devils dismantled the Yellow Jackets in the second half of an 82-57 rout Wednesday. "They [Jones and Collier] are pretty disciplined in going for the shot block, and they help their perimeter people."

"You've got to make the extra pass against a shot-blocker," said Williams, who did not complain about the Terps' shot selection.

If Williams has his way, Maryland won't need extraordinary work from its half-court offense, because its full-court pressure will get to Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets have been out of control late in losses to four Top 25 teams, and impatience has cost them in seven straight losses to the Terps.

Maryland forced 24 turnovers in its 91-60 romp here last season.

"I think we have to pressure them," Miller said. "We watched tape, and we think they're prone to that. Other teams have done that to them, and that's what we did last year. We put a lot of pressure on them, and I think it worked."

Maryland is stuck in its first losing streak since February. Then, Williams shook up a veteran team that held the No. 7 ranking and replaced Obinna Ekezie in the starting lineup with Baxter.

The current team's psyche is considerably more fragile, and when asked if he was weighing a similar move, Williams was noncommittal.

"You're right," Williams said, when reminded of circumstances similar to last season's lineup change. "We had [different] ways to go last year. We had a few more people. We have a different team this year."

The Terps had nearly a full week to reflect on the Duke debacle that was the program's worst shooting game in more than four years. Maryland's video selection included some tapes of happier games.

"We missed a lot of shots [against Duke] that we can make," Williams said.

"If you dwell on it too much, it becomes a thing in a player's mind. It's just like a batting slump. All of a sudden he's thinking about three things, and he'll never hit the ball. It's the same way in basketball. You don't browbeat them over missed shots they're supposed to take."

NOTES: Maryland will try to make it four straight at Georgia Tech for the first time. Jones, who is supposed to be the intimidator, trails Morris' 2.8 blocks a game. The Terps lead the ACC with 8.0 blocks a game. Point guard Tony Akins and shooting guard Shaun Fein suffered cramps Wednesday against Duke, but both should be fine tonight.

Terps tonight

Opponent: Georgia Tech

Site: Alexander Memorial Coliseum, Atlanta

Time: 8

TV/Radio: Ch. 54 (UPN)/WBAL (1090 AM)

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