From here on, no room for sour stretches

March 18, 2001|By MIKE PRESTON

BOISE, Idaho - It's time for the University of Maryland to move on, both mentally and physically.

No. 3 seed Maryland advanced to the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16 yesterday with a 79-60 victory against No. 11 seed Georgia State in the second round of the West Regional at Boise State University, but they can't afford to play at this same level next week.

The Terps (23-10) have literally back-slid into the next round, and they should send thank-you cards to the NCAA for opening up against No. 14 seed George Mason, and then to Georgia State (29-5) for upsetting Wisconsin in the first round, a team that defeated Maryland, 78-75, in overtime on Nov. 29.

Thanks, Lefty.

But yesterday's game was Maryland's season played out in microcosm. The Terps shot 52 percent in the first half, but missed four of 10 free throws and lacked the killer instinct that should have taken the Panthers' confidence away when Maryland was ahead 27-18 with 8:32 left in the first half.

But the other Maryland team showed up in the second half, the one that was one of the hottest in the Atlantic Coast Conference down the stretch when the Terps won seven of their last eight games, the one that plays great defense, and the Terps outscored the Panthers 32-13 in the final 14:31 to turn the game into a rout.

Now, the question is, which Maryland team shows up to play Georgetown (25-7) in the opening round of the Sweet 16 on Thursday, and possibly second-ranked Stanford two days later?

The Terps better bring their A game or it could be see you later.

Georgetown isn't where it was when John Thompson ran the place, but it's Georgetown, and not the other George, George Mason.

And Stanford, pushed to the end yesterday by St. Joseph's, is still a No. 1 seed.

"We're playing well, but a couple of games before the ACC tournament, we were playing great from start to finish," said Maryland forward Byron Mouton. "Right now, I'd say of the 40 minutes, we played about 30 to 32 minutes today. I think once we play the whole 40 minutes, I think we're unstoppable."

When asked if the Terps could get away with playing 30 to 32 minutes next week, Mouton said without hesitation, "No, we can't get away with that at all. I think for the next week, that's going to be our main focus, to play 40 hard, straight minutes, play our best ball."

So far, the Terps' two tournament games have been ugly and unimpressive, but they won. Mission accomplished. And certainly, there were positive signs in the second half yesterday that Maryland is regaining form.

The Terps' top inside duo of center Lonny Baxter and forward Terence Morris, AWOL on Thursday, resurfaced. Maryland took advantage of its height and pounded the ball inside as Baxter finished with 19 points and Morris had 14.

Morris even became a nasty boy. He grabbed nine rebounds, made moves off the dribble, drew fouls going to the basket. At times he played with a scowl on his face, which indicated a sense of urgency.

At least for a day anyway.

Maryland's defense forced 15 turnovers and it didn't allow Georgia State guards Darryl Cooper and Kevin Morris to convert from the outside with three-pointers. The Panthers were 4-for-22 from long range, and when the Terps didn't have a hand in their faces, they didn't allow them to beat them off the dribble either.

"We're pretty familiar with that type of play because we play Duke," said Maryland guard Juan Dixon. "Georgia State has four shooters on the perimeter, so we just wanted to contain them and keep in front of them. Steve Blake [Maryland point guard] did a tremendous job on Morris. We just wanted to stop them from shooting and penetrating."

But Maryland is going to need more than just defense Thursday against Georgetown. Right now, the Terps need to become smarter, have more court and game awareness, if they want to become a Final Four team. It was apparent yesterday, especially in the first half.

Ahead 39-33 with 2:08 left in the half, the Terps had a chance to put the Panthers deep in the hole, but instead of walking the ball up the court with 1:41 left, Blake tried to push it, lost control, and Georgia State eventually pulled within 41-37 at the half.

It's a scenario that has happened often with Blake, who has only one gear. Dixon is one of the great warriors in college basketball, but has a habit of taking bad shots at crucial times and took two in the first half yesterday that allowed Georgia State to climb back into the game.

Freshman forward Chris Wilcox is a great talent, and gives the Terps a spark when he is in the game, but his carelessness and unnecessary fouls put him and his team at risk. (Psssst: Hey, Chris, no shots at the top of the key when your teammates are killing the other team inside.)

Of course, it all sounds like nitpicking, but it's the little things that cause a team to lose a 10-point lead in the final 54 seconds or almost blow a 22-point lead to Penn earlier this season.

It's what separates Maryland from Duke.

Georgetown will be a tougher opponent for the Terps. Both teams have solid depth and the Hoyas are physical up front. The guard matchup between Blake and Kevin Braswell should be one of the best in the game, and Georgetown will counter Morris and Baxter with 6-8 freshman forward Mike Sweetney and 7-0 senior center Ruben Boumtje Boumtje.

Georgetown is an up-and-coming team getting better every day. With Maryland, you just roll the dice. One game Morris and Baxter show up, the next day they don't.

One half the Terps make a lot of foul shots, the next half they go completely cold. One week the Terps look like a Final Four team, the next week like they want the season to end.

It's an identity crisis. That needs to change this week. Georgia State and George Mason are gone.

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