Morris wants to add to winning equation

Just as 9-3 Terps hit ACC schedule, senior says his game is back

January 02, 2001|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - Terence Morris said he feels his ailing game has returned to normal.

Over the next two months, if Maryland intends to claim supremacy in the rough-and-tumble Atlantic Coast Conference and if Morris intends to solidify his position as a high first-round pick in the NBA draft, the senior forward from Frederick had better be right.

As they prepare for their ACC opener tonight at Clemson's Littlejohn Coliseum, the Terps are a talent-laden team with an eight-game winning streak, a strong bench, numerous scoring threats and the assurance they don't need Morris on top of his game every night.

But the 17th-ranked Terrapins probably can't afford to have Morris disappear for too many lengthy stretches.

"They definitely need me to be at the top of my game when we get into the ACC. I can add a lot more to this team than what I've done," the 6-foot-9 Morris said.

"If I get myself rolling, we've got a better chance of winning."

Since stumbling to a 1-3 start - losing along the way to heavyweights such as Illinois and Wisconsin - the Terps have mended some problem spots. Playing a soft December schedule against the likes of UMES, Norfolk State and Chicago State hasn't hurt, either.

Junior guard Juan Dixon has buried an early-season slump as efficiently as one of his automatic medium-range jumpers. Dixon has averaged 22.3 points in his past six games to take over the team scoring lead. Junior swingman Byron Mouton has brought the Terps an exciting scoring and rebounding threat who isn't afraid to let his emotions show on the court.

Junior center Lonny Baxter has been a bull inside, where his rebounding has gotten steadily better. Sophomore point guard Steve Blake played his only shaky game of the month in Saturday's 105-53 rout over UMES, but still has been an assist machine lately. His clutch shots late in an 87-81 win at Penn on Dec. 9 are among the biggest points of the season.

Then there is Morris, who was touted along with Dixon and Baxter as a preseason All-American, but has rarely played like it.

Since leading the Terps with 24 points in a season-opening win against Louisville, Morris has yet to lead them since. He ranks fourth on the team with a 12.0-point scoring average. His 5.8-rebound average is three shy of last year's total. His lack of aggressiveness has been glaring during multi-game stretches in which he has failed to land on the free-throw line. His outside shot has been inconsistent at best.

"With Terence, it's a gradual thing. It's coming," said Terps coach Gary Williams, who has been irked by Morris' lack of aggressiveness.

On numerous occasions, Morris - never known for a rugged style of play - has passed up strong moves to the basket by settling for turnaround jumpers. He has chosen layups over dunks. The power forward has been power-challenged.

"I'm not rebounding the ball particularly well, not going for the ball like I should sometimes. But I'm challenging a lot of shots, blocking a lot of shots," said Morris, who passed the 200-block mark recently.

Morris showed signs of breaking out of his funk during back-to-back victories over Chicago State and UMES, combining for 29 points in those games.

Morris, who passed up a chance to leave school early for the pros, insisted he does not have NBA lottery thoughts in the back of his mind during his final season.

"I'm not thinking about the next level right now. I'm just trying to concentrate on how this season is going," he said. "If you think about [the scouts in the stands], it can mess you up."

Tony DiLeo, the director of player personnel for the Philadelphia 76ers, said Morris remains "one of the top 15 players" who is headed for a productive NBA career."[Morris] won't be a go-to guy, a star. He'll be a great complementary player," DiLeo said. "He's got the skills, size, athleticism, and Terence will help the team win."

As for Morris' unassertive style, DiLeo said, "Does he have the ability to take over games but doesn't take over? Is he so unselfish that he won't take over? These are questions we have to answer."

Added Ryan Blake, the NBA's assistant director of scouting: "We've seen him for four years. We know what he can do. He's not shooting well from long distance right now. We know he can. His main concern right now is helping his team. Scouts don't overlook that."

Williams has said all along that Morris will be fine this year, and that Morris will have a major say in how far Maryland goes in the ACC and beyond.

"It's the time of the year when you need a senior with his ability to step up," Williams said. "I think he is in a position to do that now."

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