Terps' defense proving liability

Past three opponents have shot 47.3 percent

January 12, 2001|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - University of Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams told his team in the moments after Wednesday's 86-83 home loss to North Carolina that one mid-January defeat would not decide the Terrapins' final place in the Atlantic Coast Conference standings.

But the thing that most disturbed the 14th-ranked Terps about their first ACC loss did not crop up out of nowhere against the Tar Heels.

Maryland seemingly has left its defense behind in the new year.

Through three league contests, Maryland (11-4, 2-1) has negated a prolific attack by surrendering an average of 86 points. Over that stretch, opponents have shot at an alarmingly successful rate.

From the field, Terps foes have hit 47.3 percent of their shots. And from three-point range - where the Tar Heels countered Maryland's double-teaming strategy on Carolina center Brendan Haywood - the Terps have given up 32 baskets on 69 attempts (46.4 percent).

"That's ridiculous," Williams said. "This is the same team as last year, even though we were 0-3 and 2-4 to start the league. We haven't played as good on defense as we did after three games last year. It's not like we're playing horrible defense, but it's close."

Maryland was pretty much horrible after halftime against Carolina. The Tar Heels got hot from the outside, eventually hitting eight of their first 10 three-pointers and creating a 19-point, second-half lead that was too much for the Terps to overcome.

Williams pointed to a combination of reasons for the Terps' defensive problems, be it the failure to fight through screens, the failure to switch properly or simple effort. And the trouble has usually shown up in the second half, as the Terps have led every game this season at intermission.

Remember that 57-point second half by Illinois, which gave Maryland its first loss of the season in the Maui Invitational? Or that 51-point second half by Penn in a hair-raising, 87-81 victory on Dec. 9? The Terps nearly blew a 22-point halftime lead that night.

Those examples were not flukes. Maryland opened its ACC season by surrendering 56 first-half points at Clemson, which dropped 13 three-pointers on the Terps before falling, 104-92.

In last week's home opener against Georgia Tech, Maryland grabbed a 19-point halftime lead, allowed it to fade to six, then put away the Yellow Jackets. But not before Georgia Tech responded with 46 points after the break.

"Some nights you just can't hit shots and you've got to rely on the defense. Defense is the key," said junior Byron Mouton, whose overall game has left something to be desired lately. In his past two games, Mouton has made just two of eight shots and scored six points. He had a season-low two points against the Tar Heels. His defense has been less than stellar.

Maybe a healthy Juan Dixon would have made a difference Wednesday. Dixon led Maryland with 22 points on 7-for-16 shooting, which was remarkable, considering he had spent four hours receiving fluids intravenously on game day to combat an intestinal virus.

Dixon looked sluggish at times. He missed some shots in his near-automatic medium range and lacked the energy to pressure the perimeter and deny Tar Heels guard Joe Forte (26 points) the ball in the second half. For the first time this season, he did not record a steal.

"Teams are getting inside shots and three-point shots against us that they shouldn't get," Dixon said. "It's the same problem we always have. We can't keep playing catch-up in the second half. We needed some leaders to step up [against Carolina]. Maybe that has to be me."

Williams, who also was bothered by several key, second-half possessions in which Carolina earned baskets with a series of offensive rebounds, might be running out of ways to remind his team that defensive lapses in a tough ACC can be costly. The Tar Heels proved it by denying Maryland a victory for the third time in three attempts against a ranked team.

Maryland figures to take out its frustrations Sunday at Florida State, which probably will end up in the conference basement. Then, the Terps will brace for a visit on Wednesday by No. 6 Wake Forest.

"There's no crisis. We're 2-1 and we've got to play," Williams said. "You don't want to lose at home, but we did. Now we have to go make up for that somewhere."

NOTES: Sophomore forward Tahj Holden (broken foot) continued his rehabilitation by doing some straight-line running at practice for the first time yesterday, and he could be ready to join the team for a full workout by next week. ... Dixon has averaged 22.9 points in his past nine games.

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