Terps hope 3-game streak sends them on right course

With ACC run on deck, UM plays host to Hampton

College Basketball

January 08, 2003|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - With the rest of the Atlantic Coast Conference schedule just ahead, the Maryland Terrapins are seeing signs that make them look and feel like formidable defending national champions.

Nearly four weeks since losing their last game, the No. 21 Terps think of themselves as growing up fast.

They have won three consecutive games, including a hotly contested ACC opener against Georgia Tech. They have altered the roles of several players, young and old, while building depth in a rotation that could expand to 10. They are playing defense and attacking in ways that have pleased their demanding coach.

All Maryland coach Gary Williams wants tonight, besides a victory over the visiting Hampton Pirates, is for the Terps to continue a pattern that began taking hold during the past four weeks, highlighted by countless practice hours.

"You go through a period where you find out if your guys are good enough, before you try some things. We've had a chance to try different combinations in practice," Williams said. "I think our bench has gotten better. I think we've got a pretty good rotation going right now. Hampton gives us another look. Hampton is a good look. It certainly is no Cinderella story anymore."

Although Maryland (7-3) has never played Hampton, the Terps are well aware of the Pirates' recent history.

Two years ago during the opening round of the NCAA tournament, Maryland witnessed the 15th-seeded Pirates' upset over No. 2 seed Iowa State in Boise, Idaho. Hampton won another Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title last year before losing to Connecticut after making a good stand in the first round of the NCAAs.

"It's one of those teams that comes out every night and plays hard. They're not giving in. They just run their stuff," Terps senior guard Drew Nicholas said of the Pirates (6-3), who are led by guards Mackel Purvis (13.6 ppg) and Devin Green (13.0 ppg). "It's a game we're expected to win, but they will fight, and we have to match that."

Look for Maryland to refocus its efforts on getting the ball inside to create high-percentage shots. The Terps got away from that during Saturday's 79-57 victory over Wagner, even though senior center Ryan Randle scored 21 points by tying a school record in shooting 10-for-10 from the field.

"The offense is a lot better because everybody knows it. Guys aren't thinking about what they're supposed to do. They're just playing," said Randle, alluding to Maryland's five newcomers. "But we need to play a lot better than we did on Saturday. We need to execute better and play with more excitement."

Williams has seen enough good things brewing with this team to get excited as the Terps prepare to defend their regular-season ACC crown. Saturday's visit by Florida State marks a stretch that will include 15 of 16 games in the conference.

Since losing to Florida on Dec. 14, Williams has benched senior forward Tahj Holden, replaced him in the starting lineup with freshman Travis Garrison, expanded the roles of backups like junior forward Jamar Smith and freshman guard Chris McCray, and used freshman point guard John Gilchrist at key points. All seem to be flourishing.

Holden has scored 11 points in each game as a backup and has looked rejuvenated in an old role. Smith has given the Terps much spring on the boards with 23 rebounds in his past three games. McCray has provided much energy with nine steals in his past three games.

With Nicholas (18.3 ppg) and Randle (15.0 ppg, 7.5 rpg) carrying the scoring load and senior point guard Steve Blake providing the calming influence with an average of 9.7 assists in his past three games, Maryland appears to be making the right kind of move.

The Terps - who should get senior reserve guard Calvin McCall back after he missed two games with a sprained left ankle - lead the ACC in assists, steals, blocked shots, three-point shooting percentage and three-point percentage defense. They rank second in scoring offense (81.2 ppg) and field-goal percentage defense (36 percent). This after losing to three teams currently ranked in the top 15.

"I'm not convinced we're that much better [since losing to Florida]," Nicholas said. "But we've made strides."

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