Rebound of Morris, Baxter expected

First-round woes `a one-game thing' for Terps down low

NCAA Tournament

March 17, 2001|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

BOISE, Idaho - It was an aberration.

That's how Maryland coach Gary Williams is looking at the play of center Lonny Baxter and forward Terence Morris in Thursday's first-round win over George Mason.

Baxter and Morris combined to score six points total against the Patriots. It was the lowest output by the duo this season and it came at a most inopportune time.

"I look at it as a one-game thing," Williams said. "I've never reacted to one game as a coach. So, we're just going to get ready to play against Georgia State."

What went wrong in the coach's view?

"Mason did a good job on our inside game," he said. "I thought our inside players weren't very active - probably as sluggish as I've seen them all year as a group. Of course, we have quite a few inside guys. And that's the challenge for them - to play differently against Georgia State."

Statistics back up Williams' assertion that Morris and Baxter were out of character as no-shows. Until then, both had been playing well. Baxter had scored in double figures the past seven games before Thursday, and Morris reached the plateau the past four.

Baxter's poor outing can be tied directly to George Mason center George Evans. Baxter, a preseason candidate for the Naismith and Wooden awards as national Player of the Year, had trouble establishing position in the post against Evans, a three-time Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Year.

"George Evans was just too quick for Baxter," said Derek Brown, who was among several observers willing to comment on how they saw the game unfold. Brown, a former Coppin State men's assistant who now coaches the women's team, played for Williams on a high school championship team in New Jersey.

"Lonny is used to going against much slower big men inside," he said. "Evans can go left and right."

Mount St. Mary's coach Jim Phelan said: "George Evans saw the game of his life developing, and he took advantage of situation. ... He's about the same height as Baxter, but Evans is so much quicker. To me, it was a shocking turn of events at just the right moment for Evans."

UMBC coach Tom Sullivan had a similar view.

"Baxter is used to playing against bigger players in the ACC," he said. "They play a different kind of game in the ACC inside. I think the quickness of Evans was the difference. Evans is quick, strong and has basketball wisdom. He knows what he has to accomplish and goes out and does it."

In the NCAA tournament, Sullivan said, players can find themselves with "difficult matchups" at the center/forward positions.

"As far as Morris is concerned, he lets the game come to him, which is nice," he said. "But, unfortunately, he waited a little too long to assert himself."

Baxter made just one of four field-goal attempts, his lowest number of shots all season. Morris took and made one less shot than Baxter, tying his season low for attempts.

Baxter also got into early foul trouble, which limited him to eight minutes in the first half and 20 for the game. He played the last 10 minutes of the second half with four fouls.

"Neither Baxter nor Morris were really ready to play, and Maryland turnovers led to George Mason getting early control of the game" Maryland radio analyst Chris Knoche said. "Baxter was a victim of circumstances as he was facing a completely different player from anyone in the country in George Evans. ... Being 30 gives him nine years more experience than almost everyone else, and that means a lot when you play the way he does."

Morris admitted afterward to being out of sync with the offense from tip-off, while Baxter said he already has put Thursday out of his mind.

"You just have to focus on the next game at hand," Baxter said. "Come out and concentrate and play hard.

"I'm just coming to the game and will try to establish myself in the low block position and just play my game like I normally do."

In today's game against Georgia State, Baxter will not have to deal with a player the caliber of Evans, who scored a game-high 27 points on 10-for-15 shooting. Neither will Morris, who at 6-9 is two inches taller than any starter the Panthers have.

That should lead to more touches for Morris. The few touches he had against George Mason, he looked to get his teammates involved rather than create his own shot.

"Terence is getting the ball. He just has to be aggressive when he gets the ball," teammate Juan Dixon said. "Right now, I think he's kind of tentative. He's not working hard to get his shot. In his sophomore year, he worked to get his shot and to get open looks. If we get Terence playing his type of game, I think we'll be unstoppable."

Maryland's premier low-post players have rarely both been off their game. Only one other time, in the home loss to Florida State Feb. 14, did both players fail to score in double figures in the same game.

But on Thursday, it took a strong game by small forward Byron Mouton, who scored 22 points, and backups Chris Wilcox (13 minutes) and Tahj Holden (16 minutes) to ensure a Terps victory.

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