Terrapins must learn to finish what they start

Team's 0-3 ACC mark a result of inability to close out games

January 19, 2000|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- Golf is one of Gary Williams' passions, and an analogy from that game explains the current plight of his Maryland basketball team.

The Terps are capable of splitting the fairway with 300-yard drives and knocking down flagsticks with their wedge, but an inconsistent nature causes them to sometimes send a tee shot into the woods and chunk the occasional chip. Their score comes down to making putts, and right now they've got the yips.

Finishing has become a problem for No. 24 and slipping Maryland (11-5, 0-3), which will try to end its longest losing streak in nearly three years tonight at 9 at Cole Field House against Wake Forest.

Finishing shots held back the Terps in their previous Atlantic Coast Conference home game, a 10-point loss to Duke. Two road games were decided by a total of three points at the end, as the Terps lost at N.C. State on a late basket by the Wolfpack, and couldn't even produce a game-winning attempt in a setback at Georgia Tech.

The last breakdown added to Williams' dry-cleaning bill, as the ending in Atlanta led him to tear off his sportcoat and spike it in disgust.

"We have to work on finishing games," sophomore forward Danny Miller said. "We've been back and forth, up five, down five, and we just have to make sure that we finish out the game. If it keeps on happening, it's definitely a problem. We have to make sure we don't let it happen again."

Three straight losses mean it's been 39 days since the Terps beat a team rated in the Top 100 in the Rating Percentage Index. With each loss, Maryland's confidence shrinks a bit and the pressure increases on a team that uses four freshmen and three sophomores in a nine-man rotation.

Late-game execution could be critical in a conference in which No. 5 Duke has been very good, Clemson very bad, and little appears to separate the other seven teams.

"When you have a veteran team, you expect to handle those situations better," Williams said of the road losses. "You almost anticipate you're not always going to handle situations well when you're young, and our backcourt is a young backcourt. We've lost four games by a total of 11 points, but we've won some close games, too.

"It's going to be a year with a lot of close games."

Freshman Steve Blake runs the point for Maryland, and sophomore guard Juan Dixon is also a first-year starter.

With all of the concern about forward Terence Morris and Lonny Baxter breaking out of shooting slumps, Maryland also must straighten out its bench. In both road losses, the reserves combined for just one basket, and Drew Nicholas' only field goal in the ACC was a late three-pointer against Duke.

"Our bench didn't play particularly well at Georgia Tech, and there may be some changes there," Williams said when asked if he was considering shifts in his rotation. One possibility: more minutes for freshman Tahj Holden.

Wake Forest (11-5, 2-2), meanwhile, has been even more erratic than Maryland.

Coach Dave Odom had the only ranked team at the Rainbow Classic, but the Demon Deacons stumbled home from Hawaii with two losses in three games. Picked to finish third in the ACC, they blew an 18-point lead to Florida State in their conference opener -- at home.

Wake Forest beat Clemson as expected, then posted a stirring victory over North Carolina, in which the Demon Deacons physically shackled the Tar Heels' scorers in the second half. Odom then shook his head as Wake Forest had an uninspired 20-point loss at N.C. State.

Junior guard Robert O'Kelley leads Wake Forest with a 15.1 scoring average, and forward Darius Songaila is at 12.3.

"We have to do a better job of defending down the stretch," Odom said, "and running our half-court offense."

That quote could have come from Williams.

NOTES: Tickets are available for tonight's Wake Forest game and Saturday's game against Clemson. Reserve Calvin McCall has cut his dreadlocks. Maryland has lost seven of its past nine games to Wake Forest, the only visitor other than Duke to win at Cole the past two years. The Terps ended a three-game losing streak to the Demon Deacons with a 92-69 romp here Dec. 3, 1998, but played miserably in a 13-point loss in Winston-Salem last Super Bowl Sunday. O'Kelley has 1,283 career points. He needs 33 to pass CBS analyst Billy Packer and move to No. 18 on Wake Forest's all-time scoring chart. The Terps and Demon Deacons are seventh and eighth, respectively, in the ACC in three-pointers made.

Terps tonight

Opponent: Wake Forest

Site: Cole Field House, College Park

Time: 9

TV/Radio: ESPN/WBAL (1090 AM)

Line: Maryland by 5

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