Level ride unknown by Morris

Maryland: The Terps' senior, who entered this season burdened with the highest of expectations, has learned to deal with uneven production.

Ncaa Tournament

March 21, 2001|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

ANAHEIM, Calif. - The enigma that is Maryland forward Terence Morris was on full display last week.

The Terps began their NCAA tournament drive in Boise, Idaho, by nearly losing to heavy underdog George Mason, on a day when Morris barely posted. The 6-foot-9 senior did not even take a shot in the first half, rode the bench for a nine-minute stretch in the second half, then finished by tying his season low in scoring with four points.

Two days later against Georgia State, Morris played with anger and passion.

He swung his right arm forcefully to block two shots, abused the Panthers in the post with three dunks, and barely missed his 26th career double double. He settled for 14 points and nine rebounds and played a decisive role in the Terps' 79-60 victory that propelled them into a Sweet 16 matchup tomorrow against Georgetown.

The Boise experience was classic, on-again, off-again Morris, whose distinguished career has featured a checkered, final year.

Through 33 games, Morris is averaging 12.5 points, third highest on the team and his lowest since his freshman year, when he did not start a game. He remains one of the Atlantic Coast Conference's top rebounders, averaging 7.7 per game. He also has never climbed out of a season-long shooting funk. Morris has shot only 43.5 percent overall and 27.6 percent from three-point range, easily the lowest numbers of his three-time All-ACC career.

"Terence is still the game guy he's always been," said senior backup center Mike Mardesich. "He decides when he wants to play and when he wants to take over a game. I know how thoughtful and unselfish he is, and sometimes I'd wish he'd be a little more selfish."

"It's not like [Morris] has had a bad season. He fills up the stat line every night. He plays good basketball," added junior shooting guard Juan Dixon. "He's not the type of player who will score 25 points every night. He doesn't have that killer instinct. He's laid back. I wish things had worked out better for him."

Don't weep for Morris, who should become a millionaire not long after his name is called on NBA draft day, somewhere in the middle of the first round. The shy art student from Frederick who starred at Thomas Johnson High School will realize a lifelong dream by becoming a professional player. He expects to earn his degree at Maryland next spring.

Some players crave the spotlight. Think Stevie Francis. Some shun the light. That's Morris. Ask Morris whether he plans a shopping spree when he signs his first NBA contract, and he shrugs. He plans to purchase a big-screen TV. And he's thinking strongly about replacing that 1990 Honda Civic he has, ahem, outgrown.

"Money is not really an issue. I just love to play basketball. For me to get the opportunity to play with some of the best players in the world is all I can ask for," said Morris, who said he has never looked back at his decision to remain at Maryland for his senior year instead of leaving early for the NBA.

"I had it in my mind [all along] that I was going to stay for four years," he said. "I never gave any thought to leaving early. I wanted to finish school. I wanted to finish something I started. I want to win a national championship."

Morris admits he is not finishing on the strongest of notes. He has led the team in scoring only four times, and has disappeared for lengthy stretches offensively. Remember that invisible December? Then there was that recent ACC stretch, during which Morris never shot more than seven times or scored more than eight points.

"It's been up and down for the team this year, the way we've played and the way I've played," he said.

"My outside shot has been off. I do pass up a lot of shots. I like to get everyone involved. My teammates look to me to do certain things to help them out. I'm pretty comfortable with my role. I don't look to make my stats higher. If I see somebody open, I'm going to pass him the ball."

In some ways, Morris is a victim of his own maturity. As a sophomore, he played second fiddle to Francis. Morris blossomed as a tall leaper with a great floor game who could play defense, block shots and shoot. He never was a grinding, inside force. He is built for the small forward slot in the pro ranks. Picture him with 20 more pounds of muscle on his 215-pound frame.

But after being tabbed as a first-team, All-ACC pick that year, high expectations clung to Morris. Even after averaging 15.8 points and 8.6 rebounds as a junior - both career highs - many people viewed his second-team, All-ACC year as a disappointment.

Then came last preseason, when Morris was pictured on the cover of numerous magazines touting a team that was supposed to be the best of the Gary Williams era. It has been an uneven ride for Morris ever since.

Then again, Morris ranks among the top eight in school history in scoring, rebounding, three-point field goals, blocks and steals.

"I feel sorry for him. Terence has had some great games for us. But he had so much hype, it's been tough on him, with his type of personality," Williams said.

"In terms of his future, he's got a great future. He's going to get stronger, and he can shoot the ball. He didn't get invited to work out with the Olympic team last year by accident. The people at the next level know that."

NOTE: Dixon was asked for a prediction about tomorrow night's West Regional semifinal, and the Terps offensive leader was specific. "We win by 12," he said.

Next for Terps

Opponent: Georgetown, in NCAA tournament West Regional semifinal

Seeds, records: No. 3 Maryland 23-10; No. 10 Georgetown 25-7.

When: Tomorrow, 7:55 p.m.

Site: Arrowhead Pond, Anaheim, Calif.

TV/Radio: Chs. 13, 9/WBAL (1090 AM)

The line: Maryland by 8

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