WASHINGTON - Steve Blake and Drew Nicholas have been teammates for four years at Maryland, so the assumption is that they should know how to play together. Truth is, the senior guards are still figuring out how to complement each other.
That was apparent in their team's recent defeats to Indiana and Notre Dame. Blake became the points guard, taking 35 shots and making more turnovers than assists. Nicholas became hesitant, and missing all eight of his three-point shots didn't help a player starting for the first time in his career.
In leading the Terrapins to a 93-82 win yesterday over George Washington in the consolation game of the BB&T Classic at MCI Center, Blake and Nicholas performed their roles with more efficiency - and productivity - than at any time this season.
Though he finished with a career-high 27 points - the same as Nicholas - Blake took only 12 shots, making 10. More importantly, he got the ball to Nicholas and the rest of the Terps in the right places, finishing with seven assists and only three turnovers.
Nicholas made five of seven threes - the same as Blake - and shot 9-for-18 overall. His point total was one shy of his career high, set this season against The Citadel, and helped take some of the pressure off himself as he tries to replace Maryland all-time scoring leader Juan Dixon.
"When we lose, I think about what I did wrong, what I didn't do to help my team win," said Nicholas, who had scored a total of 23 points in the two losses. "That's why I came back today and tried to do things to make sure we won. ... I feel like I have to score for us to win because it takes a lot of pressure off other people."
Nicholas said he watched tape of Saturday's 79-67 loss to the Irish and noticed a flaw in his shooting stroke.
"My arm was kind of out, and I just had to bring my elbow in a little bit," he said. "Right away when I was shooting the ball during pre-game, I saw that the ball was going in for me and I had confidence once I got in the game. I always have confidence."
So did Blake, despite making some critical mistakes toward the end of regulation in Maryland's 90-84 overtime loss to Indiana and then missing 12 of 17 shots against the Irish.
"Maybe when players are not hitting their shots, you put a little more on yourself to score," said Blake, whose previous career high was 22 against the Hoosiers. "It definitely makes things a lot easier when other guys are hitting their shots. It makes the team a lot better and it allows me to be the passer that I want to be."
With Maryland facing an early 12-point deficit to the Colonials, it was left to Blake and Nicholas to lead the Terrapins. Nicholas finished with 20 points in the first half, while Blake had 12. Maryland took a five-point lead at halftime that would eventually grow to 21.
"A lot of the younger guys are going to look upon us," Nicholas said. "We have the ball in our hands most of the time and we have to make things happen. Tonight we did that."
Though Blake's efforts to get the ball inside weren't always rewarded - frontcourt starters Nik Caner-Medley, Ryan Randle and Tahj Holden were a combined 8-for-19 shooting - Maryland coach Gary Williams was pleased that his team ran its offense the way it was designed.
"Today, even though we didn't score a lot inside, it forces the defense to react," Williams said. "All of a sudden, when you kick it out, Drew has an easier shot. If you don't get the ball inside, you don't have to help, so you can stay up on Drew. Drew's a shooter. He's our marked man."
Yesterday, Nicholas was on his mark. And Blake was back on his game.