No. 21 Wake is again a fork in road for Terps

'01 turning point, N.C. stop caps tough UM stretch

College Basketball

January 23, 2002|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - The last time the Maryland Terrapins visited Wake Forest, their season was slipping away, and the Terps went on to mark a turning point that propelled them toward their first Final Four.

The No. 3 Terps have established higher ground this time around, and they are counting on experience to pull them through a tough road stretch and keep them tied with top-ranked Duke atop the Atlantic Coast Conference standings.

Tonight's game with No. 21 Wake Forest should reveal a bit more about how much Maryland (14-3, 4-1) is growing. This is its third game in six days and its third road trip in four ACC outings, which means the Terps' legs will be tested.

Count on the injury-hampered Demon Deacons to apply defensive pressure and force the tempo. First-year coach Skip Prosser, a disciple of Virginia's Pete Gillen who loves to press and create easy baskets, has had limited success with that style, while working with a squad largely raised on the grinding, half-court, slowdown approach of Dave Odom.

Odom is now coaching at South Carolina. Prosser, who came to Winston-Salem by way of Xavier and Loyola (Md.), is working with a team that Maryland coach Gary Williams says is the most athletic in the conference.

Wake Forest (13-5, 3-2), which has lost to Maryland in six of its past seven tries and has not beaten the Terps in nearly three years, needs a victory to avoid possibly falling out of the Top 25 for the first time this season. The Demon Deacons are coming off back-to-back road losses against Virginia and Duke by a combined 35 points.

Neither team is playing its best defense at the moment. The Terps came out flat against Clemson, surrendered 11 three-point baskets in the first half and trailed with under five minutes left before pulling away to a 99-90 victory at Cole Field House on Sunday night - two days after allowing 99 points in a 21-point loss at Duke. Wake Forest has given up an average of 94.5 points in its two straight defeats.

"Overall, we've played good defense, but it's just like everybody else. You go through periods where you don't play it as well as you can play it. Where we were [mentally] at the start of that [Clemson] game, I'm not sure," said Williams, who also wants Maryland to reassert itself on the glass after getting out-rebounded, 50-40, by Clemson.

"We don't have to make our defense better. We just have to get it back to where it was."

"We held Virginia to 86 (points) and we held Duke to 103," countered Prosser, mocking his team's recent failures. The Demon Deacons gave up 61 first-half points in Durham. "We haven't been combative enough defensively. We have our own defensive problems. For us to worry about Maryland's defense would be foolhardy."

While Wake Forest tries to avert its first three-game skid under Prosser, the Terps will try to repeat history after posting a three-game sweep of the Demon Deacons a year ago. Maryland stopped major bleeding last Feb. 17 at Joel Memorial Coliseum, where its frontcourt dominated Wake, as the Terps left a 1-5 skid behind and began a 10-2 finish that would end in the national semifinals.

With senior center Lonny Baxter and the ever-improving Chris Wilcox - he could soon pass Baxter as the team's leading rebounder -down low, Maryland will try to outmuscle the veteran tandem of Darius Songaila (16.6 ppg, 7.9 rpg) and Antwan Scott (10.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg) once again. Scott is playing with a dislocated finger on his non-shooting hand.

It will be interesting to see how much junior Maryland backup center Ryan Randle contributes, especially with junior Tahj Holden in such a funk. Randle produced seven points and six rebounds in only 12 minutes at Duke, then played only seven minutes against Clemson. Holden, who went scoreless at Duke, has scored one basket in his past three games.

"Ryan is earning playing time. He can rebound with anybody on our team," Williams said. "I've got to find a way to get him and Lonny on the floor at the same time."

The Terps also need Byron Mouton and Drew Nicholas (26 points in his last two games) to contain 6-6 small forward Josh Howard, an emerging star in the league. Howard, bothered by a bruised hip, leads the ACC in offensive rebounds and is averaging 14.1 points.

On the perimeter, Maryland figures to counter the dangerous Craig Dawson (41 percent three-point shooter) effectively with Juan Dixon, and the Terps are counting on junior point Steve Blake to exploit Wake's inexperience. Senior Edwin Murray sat out the second half of the Duke loss with a deep thigh bruise and could watch promising freshman Taron Downey from the bench tonight.

"We want to be a team that teams don't look forward to playing. By and large, we've been that," Prosser said. "Duke is as good as any team we've seen. I think we're going to see the same thing when we play Maryland."

Terps tonight

,, Opponent: Wake Forest

Site: Joel Memorial Coliseum, Winston-Salem, N.C.

Time: 7:30

TV/Radio: ESPN2/WBAL (1090 AM)

Line: Even

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