Expectations prove tough shot for Terp

Maryland:Terence Morris puts up numbers, but for a preseason All-American, his misses bring just as much attention.

February 13, 2000|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- Terence Morris could present a win-win situation for Maryland basketball.

If the talented junior forward can break out of a shooting slump, the Terps will be one of the more dangerous customers in the country and Morris' NBA stock will rise. If Morris were to leave Maryland early, the Terps would plaster his photo next to those of its other former great players, such as Joe Smith and Steve Francis.

Should Morris remain unable to end the woes that have dropped his field-goal percentage to .397 in Atlantic Coast Conference games, however, perhaps he'll conclude that a senior season at Maryland would be in his best interest. That would give the Terps the makings of a powerhouse for 2000-01.

Of course, there is another scenario that is not as pleasant for Maryland. Should Morris' offensive game continue to chafe under the attention that follows a preseason All-American, he might decide that if the pressure to produce is going to be that great, why not play for pay?

At the moment, draft matters are inconsequential to coach Gary Williams, Morris and the rest of the 23rd-ranked Terps, who are in Philadelphia today for a major nonconference test against No. 19 Temple.

Morris will discuss his options with Williams after the season, which could go deep into March if Maryland can maintain the edge that earned the Terps a historic win at No. 3 Duke on Wednesday.

Morris struggled with his shot for much of the night at Cameron Indoor Stadium, but he made two three-pointers that broke open the game. Afterward, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski gave an outsider's assessment of what Morris has dealt with this season.

"Everyone is downplaying [Morris], how he was supposed to be Player of the Year," Krzyzewski said. "Look, Terence Morris is a great player. He's allowed these other guys on the team to have their roles. He's a hell of a player."

Morris was the only starter back from a team that set a Maryland record for wins. He was first-team All-ACC as a first-year starter, thanks in part to a shot selection that benefited from the defensive focus on Francis and three seniors.

This time, Morris was the ACC's preseason Player of the Year. The cover of Maryland's media guide consists of four photos of Morris, and it seems that every power forward in the ACC has it taped to his dorm room wall. The conference is loaded at that position, and opponents have gauged their games against Morris.

After the win over Duke, Morris was asked if he was frustrated by all the on-court attention he has received in the ACC.

"I wasn't frustrated," said Morris, who appears to be recovered from the ankle sprain that kept him out of a Jan. 22 rout of Clemson. "My shots might not be falling, but when that happens, I try to do other things. Shooting is just one part of the game."

Morris has increased his numbers in every category except shooting percentages, as he has not appeared confident with the ball at times. In the first half of the Duke game, when he was 1-for-8, Morris gave Shane Battier too much credit and turned some easy attempts into difficult ones.

"A couple of shots in the first half, he didn't realize how open he was," Williams said. "It looked like he wanted to get rid of the ball. If you're in a little shooting slump, you have a tendency to rush."

If there has been a silver lining to Morris' search for his stroke, it has been that sophomores Juan Dixon and Lonny Baxter have come on strong. They stand second and fifth, respectively, in scoring in ACC games, and Morris says their production could lead to a three-way street.

"A lot of other teams are looking at Juan and Lonny right now," Morris said. "They've been playing really good basketball. A lot of teams have to focus on them."

And what of the scrutiny he has come under?

"I really don't worry about that," Morris said. "A lot of people are critical that I'm not putting up 30 a game, but there are a lot of other people behind me."

Maryland has won four straight since a Jan. 27 loss at North Carolina, which turned on a 14-0 Tar Heels run during which Morris barely touched the ball.

Asked about the run, Williams said, "We have to run better offense, but everybody has to be active, too."

It takes a thick skin to play for Williams, who said that he has had to adjust his approach to Morris, a graduate of Frederick's Thomas Johnson High. The coach's calls to be more aggressive have taken a different tone, and Williams has stopped asking the withdrawn Morris to be more vocal.

"I wanted him to do that, but that's not Terence," Williams said. "As a coach, you should never try to make somebody into something that they're not. Guys play the best when they're themselves. Given his personality, if that's what he brings, it's made him a great player.

"I've really tried to pump him up the last couple of weeks. I really wanted him to feel good about himself, because if you look at his numbers, he's not having a bad year at all.

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