Terps ready payback for FSU

Conquerors of Duke are no easy mark

January 26, 2002|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - The coach wants to concentrate on the present and continue to build toward another postseason. He would rather focus on Florida State no longer being a doormat in the Atlantic Coast Conference but a legitimate, dangerous competitor - as experienced in the backcourt as anyone, athletic enough to run with anyone, good enough to be the only team to beat top-ranked Duke.

His players, however, are looking back as much as they are looking forward to another visit by Florida State.

Sure, the No. 3 Maryland Terrapins want to knock off the Seminoles today at Cole Field House, move a half game ahead of Duke in the Atlantic Coast Conference and sustain their momentum. The Terps, coming off a dominating victory at Wake Forest, have won seven of their past eight games.

But Maryland figures to carry an angry streak into today's encounter, because of what happened in its building at the hands of Florida State nearly a year ago. Last Feb. 14, a midseason slide reached rock bottom when the Seminoles, mired at the bottom of the ACC standings, shocked the Terps with a 74-71 upset before one of the uglier home crowds in Cole history.

The images are enduring, beginning with the boos that Maryland absorbed from their own fans, who were fed up with the 1-5 slump their under-achieving team could not shake.

There was Terps coach Gary Williams, staring defiantly at the jeering student section after his team left the court at halftime, then addressing the students with some harsh words immediately following the loss. There were the Seminoles, carrying on with a post-game celebration that began when Florida State point guard Devon Arrington leaped onto the scorer's table, faced the Maryland students and pumped his fist.

Williams stood alone after the Florida State party ended, listening to the post-game playing of the school's alma mater, then gathered his team to regroup. Maryland got off the mat and reeled off 10 victories in its last 12 games. Its season did not end until a Final Four loss to Duke.

While Williams said he is approaching this game in businesslike fashion, his players do not attempt to hide the notion that they want a piece of Florida State.

"We just want to pay them back for what they did to us last year," Terps senior center Lonny Baxter said. "The way they acted after the game was uncalled for. That really stands out in everybody's mind."

"That was probably one of [Florida State's] biggest wins of the year and one of our worst losses," junior point guard Steve Blake added. "It sticks in our mind how crazy they went when they beat us here. You can't forget that."

Although it's hard to believe Williams has not reminded his players privately of last year's humiliation as a source of added motivation, the 24-year coach refused to be drawn too deeply into that trip down memory lane.

"When I was coaching 10 years ago, that really would have bothered me," said Williams, referring to the Seminoles' carrying on. "But look at what that game meant to Florida State last year. It was that big of a deal for [it] to win that game. This is our seventh game of the first half of the [ACC] season."

Maryland (15-3, 5-1) in no way expects a pushover opponent today, which is a wise approach. The Seminoles (10-7, 3-3), who already have surpassed last year's nine-victory total, have been bad enough to lose at home to Western Carolina and American. They also have been good enough to knock off the No. 1 team and win six of their past eight games, including Thursday's come-from-behind, 68-63 victory over Clemson.

Start with their seasoned backcourt of Arrington, a fifth-year senior, and off-guard Monte Cummings, 25, a U.S. Army veteran who played at Southeastern (Fla.) Community College before coming to Tallahassee.

Cummings, who hit the game-winning shot against Duke, leads the team with a 15.3-point scoring average. Arrington, who hit a huge late shot against Clemson and whipped Blake here a year ago, averages 11 points a game and is ranked among the nation's leaders with 7.1 assists a game. His rematch with Blake, the ACC assist leader (7.5), should be a beauty. Blake is coming off one of the best games of his career.

The Seminoles like to run and shoot the three-pointer. Behind players like small forward Antwuan Dixon (10.7 ppg, 41.8 percent from three-point range), they have made 25 threes in their past three games. Sophomore forward Michael Joiner (8.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg), freshman backup forward Anthony Richardson (8.6 ppg) and junior forward Mike Mathews give them more depth than coach Steve Robinson has had in five years at Florida State.

The Terps are counting on their big men, beginning with Baxter and Chris Wilcox, to control the low block and the boards. Florida State is vulnerable there, unless 6-10, 341-pound junior Nigel Dixon can maximize his playing time. Dixon has started 16 of 17 games, but he is averaging only 17.5 minutes.

With junior guard Drew Nicholas in a good groove - he has averaged 12 points in his last three games - Maryland thinks its three-guard alignment of Juan Dixon, Blake and Nicholas can match Florida State from the outside.

The Seminoles, who are trying to record their first winning season and reach their first NCAA tournament since 1998, have Maryland's full attention. And not just because payback time is on the Terps' minds.

"They're very athletic. They're as quick as Oklahoma," Williams said. "When they are shooting the ball, they can play with anybody. They have the size, quickness and the experience."

Said Blake: "They are not a team with a bunch of scrubs. They can play. They can get hot from the perimeter, and that makes them dangerous. If they get going, they can be tough to stop."

Terps today

Opponent: Florida State

Site: Cole Field House, College Park

Time: 4 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)

Line: Maryland by 19

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