Terps bank on getting Morris back on track

Maryland needs forward to heat up to avoid loss to Wake, 0-4 ACC start

January 17, 2000|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- Maryland might not be ready to push the panic button, but some of its fans have taken off their gloves and flexed their index fingers.

Saturday night's 69-68 loss at Georgia Tech dropped the Terps to 0-3 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Maryland has overcome worse starts in the conference -- it earned an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament in 1986 despite losing its first six ACC games -- but it needs to turn around in a hurry.

The Terps will try to break out of their first three-game losing streak in nearly three years Wednesday against recent nemesis Wake Forest. Straightening out a half-court offense that hummed in November and December, but has turned shaky and indecisive, is a priority for coach Gary Williams.

Given the goodwill in the ratings percentage index that the Terps developed with some significant non-conference wins, even a 7-9 ACC finish should get Maryland its seventh straight bid to the NCAAs. The RPI watching and speculation will be moot, however, unless the Terps can get Terence Morris and Lonny Baxter untracked.

After Morris made just four of 12 shots Saturday, the ACC preseason Player of the Year was the target of Williams' dismay.

Morris made 53.8 percent of his field-goal attempts in the ACC last season, but is shooting 40.0 this go-round. Many of his baskets have come on put-backs or in transition, as his looks in the half-court have been limited. A double screen that freed Morris on the right baseline was a Maryland staple last season, but opponents know it's coming.

Morris must become more assertive in demanding the ball, but the situation is hardly all his fault. The Terps like to clear out the left block for him, but freshman point guard Steve Blake favors his right hand, and that's the side the attack is often steered.

Reserve center Mike Mardesich seemed to get the ball on the block as frequently as Morris in the second half Saturday, not a recipe the Terps want to follow.

Neither Morris nor Baxter drew a foul while shooting in or near the paint in the final 38 minutes here. Baxter, who shot 58.6 percent in the ACC last season, is at 37.8 this time. Minus inside production, Maryland blew an 11-point lead and was in the tenuous position of having to create another game-winning shot at the end of a road game.

Juan Dixon ended his five-week three-point shooting slump on his first attempt of the game, and stepped up with a career-high 31 points. The sophomore from Calvert Hall forces the issue sometimes, but all too often he's the only Terp going strong to the basket.

Wake Forest has a number of mobile, muscular big men who will lean on Morris and Baxter. The Terps hope to get well at Cole Field House, but the Demon Deacons are the only visitor other than Duke to win there the past two seasons.

Next for Maryland

Opponent: Wake Forest

Record: 2-2 ACC, 11-5 overall

Site: Cole Field House, College Park

When: Wednesday, 9 p.m.

TV: ESPN

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